In the 1970s Julian Jaynes, a distinguished Princeton psychologist, wrote an influential book with a cumbersome title: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes defines the bicameral mind as a two-part mind, or brain, that functions as a single unit — as distinct from a brain with two hemispheres operating separately but joined by a bridge. Attributing the conscious mind to the left hemisphere and the unconscious to the right, he suggests that in a bicameral mind there is no division between conscious and unconscious. He argues that in the early days of settled civilizations, around the third millennium BCE, the human brain was still bicameral. This is why in the records from that era Sumerian and Babylonian documents and even Homer's telling of the Trojan War — we find kings and prophets hearing "the voices of the gods" in the form of auditory hallucinations. The gods thus intervened into human history, commenting on and dictating policy on whether to go to war, build fortifications, store up food, and so on. Something resembling modern consciousness was enabled, Jaynes says, only when this early, bicameral stage of the human mind "broke down" into two tenuously linked but separate spheres of mentality.

(The Fundamentalist Mind, Stephen Larsen)


Abstract Notions

Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul. I wish during this hour to call your attention to some of the psychological peculiarities of such an attitude as this, or belief in an object which we cannot see. All our attitudes, moral, practical, or emotional, as well as religious, are due to the "objects" of our consciousness, the things which we believe to exist, whether really or ideally, along with ourselves. Such objects may be present to our senses, or they may be present only to our thought. In either case they elicit from us a reaction; and the reaction due to things of thought is notoriously in many cases as strong as that due to sensible presences. It may be even stronger. The memory of an insult may make us angrier than the insult did when we received it. We are frequently more ashamed of our blunders afterwards than we were at the moment of making them; and in general our whole higher prudential and moral life is based on the fact that material sensations actually present may have a weaker influence on our action than ideas of remoter facts.

The more concrete objects of most men's religion, the deities whom they worship, are known to them only in idea. It has been vouchsafed, for example, to very few Christian believers to have had a sensible vision of their Saviour; though enough appearances of this sort are on record, by way of miraculous exception, to merit our attention later. The whole force of the Christian religion, therefore, so far as belief in the divine personages determines the prevalent attitude of the believer, is in general exerted by the instrumentality of pure ideas, of which nothing in the individual's past experience directly serves as a model.

But in addition to these ideas of the more concrete religious objects, religion is full of abstract objects which prove to have an equal power. God's attributes as such, his holiness, his justice, his mercy, his absoluteness, his infinity, his omniscience, his tri-unity, the various mysteries of the redemptive process, the operation of the sacraments, etc., have proved fertile wells of inspiring meditation for Christian believers. We shall see later that the absence of definite sensible images is positively insisted on by the mystical authorities in all religions as the sine qua non of a successful orison, or contemplation of the higher divine truths. Such contemplations are expected (and abundantly verify the expectation...) to influence the believer's subsequent attitude very powerfully for good.

Immanuel Kant held a curious doctrine about such objects of belief as God, the design of creation, the soul, its freedom, and the life hereafter. These things, he said, are properly not objects of knowledge at all. Our conceptions always require a sense-content to work with, and as the words soul," "God," "immortality," cover no distinctive sense-content whatever, it follows that theoretically speaking they are words devoid of any significance. Yet strangely enough they have a definite meaning for our practice. We can act as if there were a God; feel as if we were free; consider Nature as if she were full of special designs; lay plans as if we were to be immortal; and we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our moral life. Our faith that these unintelligible objects actually exist proves thus to be a full equivalent in praktischer Hinsicht, as Kant calls it, or from the point of view of our action, for a knowledge of what they might be, in case we were permitted positively to conceive them. So we have the strange phenomenon, as Kant assures us, of a mind believing with all its strength in the real presence of a set of things of no one of which it can form any notion whatsoever.

My object in thus recalling Kant's doctrine to your mind is not to express any opinion as to the accuracy of this particularly uncouth part of his philosophy, but only to illustrate the characteristic of human nature which we are considering, by an example so classical in its exaggeration. The sentiment of reality can indeed attach itself so strongly to our object of belief that our whole life is polarized through and through, so to speak, by its sense of the existence of the thing believed in, and yet that thing, for purpose of definite description, can hardly be said to be present to our mind at all. It is as if a bar of iron, without touch or sight, with no representative faculty whatever, might nevertheless be strongly endowed with an inner capacity for magnetic feeling; and as if, through the various arousals of its magnetism by magnets coming and going in its neighborhood, it might be consciously determined to different attitudes and tendencies. Such a bar of iron could never give you an outward description of the agencies that had the power of stirring it so strongly; yet of their presence, and of their significance for its life, it would be intensely aware through every fibre of its being.

It is not only the Ideas of pure Reason as Kant styled them, that have this power of making us vitally feel presences that we are impotent articulately to describe. All sorts of higher abstractions bring with them the same kind of impalpable appeal. Remember those passages from Emerson which I read at my last lecture. The whole universe of concrete objects, as we know them, swims, not only for such a transcendentalist writer, but for all of us, in a wider and higher universe of abstract ideas, that lend it its significance. As time, space, and the ether soak through all things so (we feel) do abstract and essential goodness, beauty, strength, significance, justice, soak through all things good, strong, significant, and just.

Such ideas, and others equally abstract, form the background for all our facts, the fountain-head of all the possibilities we conceive of. They give its "nature," as we call it, to every special thing. Everything we know is "what" it is by sharing in the nature of one of these abstractions. We can never look directly at them, for they are bodiless and featureless and footless, but we grasp all other things by their means, and in handling the real world we should be stricken with helplessness in just so far forth as we might lose these mental objects, these adjectives and adverbs and predicates and heads of classification and conception.

This absolute determinability of our mind by abstractions is one of the cardinal facts in our human constitution. Polarizing and magnetizing us as they do, we turn towards them and from them, we seek them, hold them, hate them, bless them, just as if they were so many concrete beings. And beings they are, beings as real in the realm which they inhabit as the changing things of sense are in the realm of space.

Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his "Banquet," "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions, he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object. "Science" in many minds is genuinely taking the place of a religion. Where this is so, the scientist treats the "Laws of Nature" as objective facts to be revered. A brilliant school of interpretation of Greek mythology would have it that in their origin the Greek gods were only half-metaphoric personifications of those great spheres of abstract law and order into which the natural world falls apart -- the sky-sphere, the ocean-sphere, the earth-sphere, and the like; just as even now we may speak of the smile of the morning, the kiss of the breeze, or the bite of the cold, without really meaning that these phenomena of nature actually wear a human face.

As regards the origin of the Greek gods, we need not at present seek an opinion. But the whole array of our instances leads to a conclusion something like this: It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call "something there," more deep and more general than any of the special and particular "senses" by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed. If this were so, we might suppose the senses to waken our attitudes and conduct as they so habitually do, by first exciting this sense of reality; but anything else, any idea, for example, that might similarly excite it, would have that same prerogative of appearing real which objects of sense normally possess. So far as religious conceptions were able to touch this reality-feeling, they would be believed in in spite of criticism, even though they might be so vague and remote as to be almost unimaginable, even though they might be such non-entities in point of whatness, as Kant makes the objects of his moral theology to be.

William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Chapter 3


Homer, His Gods and His Heroes

The first notable product of the Hellenic civilization was Homer. Everything about Homer is conjectural, but the best opinion seems to be that he was a series of poets rather than an individual. Probably the Iliad and the Odyssey between them took about two hundred years to complete, some say from 750 to 550 B.C., while others hold that "Homer" was nearly complete at the end of the eighth century. The Homeric poems, in their present form, were brought to Athens by Peisistratus, who reigned (with intermissions) from 560 to 527 B.C. From his time onward, the Athenian youth learnt Homer by heart, and this was the most important part of their education. In some parts of Greece, notably in Sparta, Homer had not the same prestige until a later date.

The Homeric poems, like the courtly romances of the later Middle Ages, represent the point of view of a civilized aristocracy, which ignores as plebeian various superstitions that are still rampant among the populace. In much later times, many of these superstitions rose again to the light of day. Guided by anthropology, modern writers have come to the conclusion that Homer, so far from being primitive, was an expurgator, a kind of eighteenth-century rationalizer of ancient myths, holding up an upper-class ideal of urbane enlightenment. The Olympian gods, who represent religion in Homer, were not the only objects of worship among the Greeks, either in his time or later. There were other darker and more savage elements in popular religion, which were kept at bay by the Greek intellect at its best, but lay in wait to pounce in moments of weakness or terror. In the time of decadence, beliefs which Homer had discarded proved to have persisted, half buried, throughout the classical period. This fact explains many things that would otherwise seem inconsistent and surprising.

Primitive religion, everywhere, was tribal rather than personal. Certain rites were performed, which were intended, by sympathetic magic, to further the interests of the tribe, especially in respect of fertility, vegetable, animal, and human. The winter solstice was a time when the sun had to be encouraged not to go on diminishing in strength; spring and harvest also called for appropriate ceremonies. These were often such as to generate a great collective excitement, in which individuals lost their sense of separateness and felt themselves at one with the whole tribe. All over, the world, at a certain stage of religious evolution, sacred animals and human beings were ceremonially killed and eaten. In different regions, this stage occurred at very different dates. Human sacrifice usually lasted longer than the sacrificial eating of human victims; in Greece it was not yet extinct at the beginning of historical times. Fertility rites without such cruel aspects were common throughout Greece; the Eleusinian mysteries, in particular, were essentially agricultural in their symbolism.

It must be admitted that religion, in Homer, is not very religious. The gods are completely human, differing from men only in being immortal and possessed of superhuman powers. Morally, there is nothing to be said for them, and it is difficult to see how they can have inspired much awe. In some passages, supposed to be late, they are treated with Voltairean irreverence. Such genuine religious feeling as is to be found in Homer is less concerned with the gods of Olympus than with more shadowy beings such as Fate or Necessity or Destiny, to whom even Zeus is subject. Fate exercised a great influence on all Greek thought, and perhaps was one of the sources from which science derived the belief in natural law. The Homeric gods were the gods of a conquering aristocracy, not the useful fertility gods of those who actually tilled the soil. As Gilbert Murray says:

"The gods of most nations claim to have created the world. The Olympians make no such claim. The most they ever did was to conquer it. . . . And when they have conquered their kingdoms, what do they do? Do they attend to the government? Do they promote honest work? They find it easier to live on the revenues and blast with thunderbolts the peoplewho do not pay. They are conquering chieftains, royal buccaneers. They fight, and feast, and play, and make music; they drink deep, and roar with laughter at the lame smith who waits on them. They are never afraid, except of their own king. They never tell lies, except in love and war."

Homer's human heroes, equally, are not very well behaved. The leading family is the House of Pelops, but it did not succeed in setting a pattern of happy family life.

"Tantalos, the Asiatic founder of the dynasty, began its career by a direct offence against the gods; some said, by trying to cheat them into eating human flesh, that of his own son Pelops. Pelops, having been miraculously restored to life, offended in his turn. He won his famous chariot-race against Oinomaos, king of Pisa, by the connivance of the latter's charioteer, Myrtilos, and then got rid of his confederate, whom he had promised to reward, by flinging him into the sea. The curse descended to his sons, Atreus and Thyestes, in the form of what the Greeks called ate, a strong if not actually irresistible impulse to crime. Thyestes corrupted his brother's wife and thereby managed to steal the 'luck' of the family, the famous golden-fleeced ram. Atreus in turn secured his brother's banishment, and recalling him under pretext of a reconciliation, feasted him on the flesh of his own children. The curse was now inherited by Atreus' son Agamemnon, who offended Artemis by killing a sacred stag, sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess and obtain a safe passage to Troy for his fleet, and was in his turn murdered by his faithless wife Klytaimnestra and her paramour Aigisthos, a surviving son of Thyestes. Orestes, Agamemnon's son, in turn avenged his father by killing his mother and Aigisthos."

Homer as a finished achievement was a product of Ionia, i.e. of a part of Hellenic Asia Minor and the adjacent islands. Some time during the sixth century at latest, the Homeric poems became fixed in their present form. It was also during this century that Greek science and philosophy and mathematics began. At the same time events of fundamental importance were happening in other parts of the world. Confucius, Buddha, and Zoroaster, if they existed, probably belong to the same century.

The History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell


Of Gods, Mythologies, and Fairy-tales

What are here called the Gods might almost alternatively be called the Day-Dreams. To compare them to dreams is not to deny that dreams can come true. To compare them to travelers' tales is not to deny that they may be true tales, or at least truthful tales. In truth they are the sort of tales the traveler tells to himself. All this mythological business belongs to the poetical part of men. It seems strangely forgotten nowadays that a myth is a work of imagination and therefore a work of art. It needs a poet to make it. It needs a poet to criticize it. There are more poets than non-poets in the world, as is proved by the popular origin of such legends. But for some reason I have never heard explained, it is only the minority of unpoetical people who are allowed to write critical studies of these popular poems. We do not submit a sonnet to a mathematician or a song to a calculating boy; but we do indulge the equally fantastic idea that folklore can be treated as a science. Unless these things are appreciated artistically they are not appreciated at all. When the Professor is told by the Polynesian that once there was nothing except a great feathered serpent, unless the learned man feels a thrill and a half temptation to wish it were true, he is no judge of such things at all. When he is assured, on the best Red Indian authority, that a primitive hero carried the sun and moon and stars in a box, unless he clasps his hands and almost kicks his legs as a child would at such a charming fancy, he knows nothing about the matter. This test is not nonsensical; primitive children and barbaric children do laugh and kick like other children; and we must have a certain simplicity to re-picture the childhood of the world. When Hiawatha was told by his nurse that a warrior threw his grandmother up to the moon, he laughed like any English child told by his nurse that a cow jumped over the moon. The child sees the joke as well as most men, and better than some scientific men.

But the ultimate test even of the fantastic is the appropriateness of the inappropriate. And the test must appear merely arbitrary because it is merely artistic. If any student tells me that the infant Hiawatha only laughed out of respect for the tribal custom of sacrificing the aged to economical housekeeping, I say he did not. If any scholar tells me that the cow jumped over the moon only because a heifer was sacrificed to Diana, I answer that it did not. It happened because it is obviously the right thing for a cow to jump over the moon.

Mythology is a lost art, one of the few arts that really are lost; but it is an art. The horned moon and the horned mooncalf make a harmonious and almost a quiet pattern. And throwing your grandmother into the sky is not good behavior, but it is perfectly good taste. Thus scientists seldom understand, as artists understand, that one branch of the beautiful is the ugly. They seldom allow for the legitimate liberty of the grotesque. And they will dismiss a savage myth as merely coarse and clumsy and an evidence of degradation, because it has not all the beauty of the herald Mercury new lighted on a heaven-kissing hill; when it really has the beauty of the Mock Turtle or the Mad Hatter. It is the supreme proof of a man being prosaic that he always insists on poetry being poetical. Sometimes the humor is in the very subject as well as the style of the fable. The Australian aborigines, regarded as the rudest of savages, have a story about a giant frog who had swallowed the sea and all the waters of the world; and who was only forced to spill them by being made to laugh. All the animals with all their antics passed before him and, like Queen Victoria, he was not amused. He collapsed at last before an eel who stood delicately balanced on the tip of its tail, doubtless with a rather desperate dignity. Any amount of fine fantastic literature might be made out of that fable. There is philosophy in that vision of the dry world before the beatific Deluge of laughter. There is imagination in the mountainous monster erupting like an aqueous volcano; there is plenty of fun in the thought of his goggling visage as the pelican or the penguin passed by. Anyhow the frog laughed; but the folklore student remains grave.

Moreover, even where the fables are inferior as art, they cannot be properly judged by science; still less properly judged as science. Some myths are very crude and queer like the early drawings of children; but the child is trying to draw. It is none the less an error to treat his drawing as if it were a diagram, or intended to be a diagram. The student cannot make a scientific statement about the savage, because the savage is not making a scientific statement about the world. He is saying something quite different; what might be called the gossip of the gods. We may say, if we like, that it is believed before there is time to examine it. It would be truer to say it is accepted before there is time to believe it. I confess I doubt the whole theory of the dissemination myths or (as it commonly is) of one myth. It is true that something in our nature and conditions makes many stories similar but each of them may be original. One man does not borrow the story from the other man, though he may tell it from the same motive as the other man. It would be easy to apply the whole argument about legend to literature; and turn it into a vulgar monomania of plagiarism. I would undertake to trace a notion like that of the Golden Bough through individual modern novels as easily as through communal and antiquated myths. I would undertake to find something like a bunch of flowers figuring again and again from the fatal bouquet of Becky Sharpe to the spray of roses sent by the princess of Ruritania. But though these flowers may spring from the same soil, it is not the same faded flower that is flung from hand to hand. Those flowers are always fresh.

The true origin of all the myths has been discovered much too often. There are too many keys to mythology, as there too many cryptograms in Shakespeare. Everything is phallic; everything is totemistic; everything is seed-time and harvest everything is ghosts and grave-offerings; everything is the golden bough of sacrifice; everything is the sun and moon; everything is everything. Every folk-lore student who knew a little more than his own monomania, every man of wider reading and critical culture like Andrew Lang, has practically confessed that the bewilderment of these things left his brain spinning. Yet the whole trouble comes from a man trying to look at these stories from the outside, as if they were scientific objects. He has only to look at them from the inside, and ask himself how he would begin a story. A story may start with anything and go anywhere. It may start with a bird without the bird being a totem; it may start with the sun without being a solar myth. It is said there are only ten plots in the world; and there will certainly be common and recurrent elements. Set ten thousand children talking at once, and telling tarradiddles about what they did in the wood, and it will not be hard to find parallels suggesting sun-worship or animal-worship. Some of the stories may be pretty and some silly and some perhaps dirty; but they can only be judged as stories. In the modern dialect, they can only be judged aesthetically. It is strange that aesthetics, or mere feeling, which is now allowed to usurp where it has no rights at all, to wreck reason with pragmatism and morals with anarchy, is apparently not allowed to give a purely aesthetic judgment on what is obviously a purely aesthetic question. We may be fanciful about everything except fairy-tales.

Now the first fact is that the most simple people have the most subtle ideas. Everybody ought to know that, for everybody has been a child. Ignorant as a child is, he knows more than he can say and feels not only atmospheres but fine shades. And in this matter there are several fine shades. Nobody understands it who has not had what can only be called the ache of the artist to find some sense and some story in the beautiful things he sees; his hunger for secrets and his anger at any tower or tree escaping with its tale untold. He feels that nothing is perfect unless it is personal. Without that the blind unconscious beauty of the world stands in its garden like a headless statue. One need only be a very minor poet to have wrestled with the tower or the tree until it spoke like a titan or a dryad. It is often said that pagan mythology was a personification of the powers of nature. The phrase is true in a sense, but it is very unsatisfactory; because it implies that the forces are abstractions and the personification is artificial. Myths are not allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions. It is not as if there were a God of Gravitation. There may be a genius of the waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The impersonation is not of something impersonal. The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens, so that the snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The test therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.

Now we do not comprehend this process in ourselves, far less in our most remote fellow-creatures. And the danger of these things being classified is that they may seem to be comprehended. A really fine work of folk-lore, like The Golden Bough, will leave too many readers with the idea, for instance, that this or that story of a giant's or wizard's heart in a casket or a cave only means some stupid and static superstition called the external soul. But we do not know what these things mean, simply because we do not know what we ourselves mean when we are moved by them. Suppose somebody in a story says 'Pluck this flower and a princess will die in a castle beyond the sea,' we do not know why something stirs in the subconsciousness, or why what is impossible seems almost inevitable. Suppose we read 'And in the hour when the King extinguished the candle his ships were wrecked far away on the coast of Hebrides!' We do not know why the imagination has accepted that image before the reason can reject it; or why such correspondences seem really to correspond to something in the soul. Very deep things in our nature, some dim sense of the dependence of great things upon small, some dark suggestion that the things nearest to us stretch far beyond our power, some sacramental feeling of the magic in material substance something in the soul. Very deep things in our nature, some dim sense of the dependence of great things upon small, some dark suggestion that the things nearest to us stretch far beyond our power, some sacramental feeling of the magic in material substances, and many more emotions past finding out, are in an idea like that of the external soul. The power even in the myths of savages is like the power in the metaphors of poets. The soul of such a metaphor is often very emphatically an external soul. The best critics have remarked that in the best poets the simile is often a picture that seems quite separate from the text. It is as irrelevant as the remote castle to the flower or the Hebridean coast to the candle. Shelley compares the skylark to a young woman on a turret, to a rose embedded in thick foliage, to a series of things that seem to be about as unlike a skylark in the sky as anything we can imagine. I suppose the most potent piece of pure magic in English literature is the much quoted passage in Keats's Nightingale about the casements opening on the perilous foam. And nobody notices that the image seems to come from nowhere; that it appears abruptly after some almost equally irrelevant remarks about Ruth; and that it has nothing in the world to do with the subject of the poem. If there is one place in the world where nobody could reasonably expect to find a nightingale, it is on a window-sill at the seaside. But it is only in the same sense that nobody would expect to find a giant's heart in a casket under the sea. Now, it would be very dangerous to classify the metaphors of the poets. When Shelley says that the cloud will rise 'like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,' it would be quite possible to call the first a case of the coarse primitive birth-myth and the second a survival of the ghost worship which became ancestor-worship. But it is the wrong way of dealing with a cloud; and is liable to leave the learned in the condition of Polonius, only too ready to think it like a weasel, or very like a whale.

Two facts follow from this psychology of day-dreams, which must be kept in mind throughout their development in mythologies and even religions. First, these imaginative impressions are often strictly local. So far from being abstractions turned into allegories, they are often images almost concentrated into idols. The poet feels the mystery of a particular forest not of the science of afforestation or the department of woods and forests. He worships the peak of a particular mountain, not the abstract idea of altitude. So we find the god is not merely water but often one special river; he may be the sea because the sea is single like a stream; the river that runs round the world. Ultimately doubtless many deities are enlarged into elements; but they are something more than omnipresent. Apollo does not merely dwell wherever the sun shines, his home is on the rock of Delphi. Diana is great enough to be in three places at once, earth and heaven and hell, but greater is Diana of the Ephesians. This localized feeling has its lowest form in the mere fetish or talisman, such as millionaires put on their motor-cars. But it can also harden into something like a high and serious religion, where it is connected with high and serious duties; into the gods of the city or even the gods of the hearth.

The second consequence is this; that in these pagan cults there is every shade of sincerity and insincerity. In what sense exactly did an Athenian really think he had to sacrifice to Pallas Athene? What scholar is really certain of the answer? In what sense did Dr. Johnson really think that he had to touch all the posts in the street or that he had to collect orange-peel? In what sense does a child really think that he ought to step on every alternate paving stone? Two things are at least fairly clear. First, in simpler and less self-conscious times these forms could become more solid without really becoming more serious. Day-dreams could be acted in broad daylight, with more liberty of artistic expression; but still perhaps with something of the light step of the somnambulist. Wrap Dr. Johnson in an antique mantle, crown him (by his kind permission) with a garland, and he will move in state under those ancient skies of morning; touching a series of sacred posts carved with the heads of the strange terminal gods, that stand at the limits of the land and of the life of man. Make the child free of the marbles and mosaics of some classic temple, to play on a whole floor inlaid with squares of black and white; and he will willingly make this fulfillment of his idle and drifting day-dream the clear field for a grave and graceful dance. But the posts and the paving-stones are little more and little less real than they are under modern limits. They are not really much more serious for being taken seriously. They have the sort of sincerity that they always had; the sincerity of art as a symbol that expresses very real spiritualities under the surface of life. But they are only sincere in the same sense as art; not sincere in the same sense as morality. The eccentric's collection of orange-peel may turn to oranges in a Mediterranean festival or to golden apples in a Mediterranean myth. But they are never on the same plane with the difference between giving the orange to a blind beggar and carefully placing the orange-peel so that the beggar may fall and break -his leg. Between these two things there is a difference of kind and not of degree. The child does not think it wrong to step on the paving-stone as he thinks it wrong to step on the dog's tail. And it is very certain that whatever jest or sentiment or fancy first set Johnson touching the wooden posts, he never touched wood with any of the feeling with which he stretched out his hands to the timber of that terrible tree, which was the death of God and the life of man.

As already noted, this does not mean that there was no reality or even no religious sentiment in such a mood. As a matter of fact the Catholic Church has taken over with uproarious success the whole of this popular business of giving people local legends and lighter ceremonial movements. In so far as all this sort of paganism was innocent and in touch with nature, there is no reason why it should not be patronized by patron saints as much as by pagan gods. And in any case there are degrees of seriousness in the most natural make-believe between fancying there are fairies in the wood, which often only means fancying a certain wood as fit for fairies, and really frightening ourselves until we walk a mile rather than pass a house we have told ourselves is haunted. Behind all these things is the fact that beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul. We all understand that and the pagans understood it. The point is that paganism did not really stir the soul except with these doubts and fancies; with the consequence that we to-day can have little beyond doubts and fancies about paganism. All the best critics agree that all the greatest poets, in pagan Hellas for example, had an attitude towards their gods which is quite queer and puzzling to men in the Christian era. There seems to be an admitted conflict between the god and the man; but everybody seems to be doubtful about which is the hero and which is the villain. This doubt does not merely apply to a doubter like Euripides in the Bacchae; it applies to a moderate conservative like Sophocles in the Antigone; or even to a regular Tory and reactionary like Aristophanes in the Frogs. Sometimes it would seem that the Greeks believed above all things in reverence, only they had nobody to revere. But the point of the puzzle is this: that all this vagueness and variation arise from the fact that the whole thing began in fancy and in dreaming; and that there are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.

This is the mighty and branching tree called mythology which ramifies round the whole world whose remote branches under separate skies bear like colored birds the costly idols of Asia and the half-baked fetishes of Africa and the fairy kings and princesses of the folk-tales of the forest and buried amid vines and olives the Lares of the Latins, and carried on the clouds of Olympus the buoyant supremacy of the gods of Greece. These are the myths and he who has no sympathy with myths has no sympathy with men. But he who has most Sympathy with myths will most fully realize that they are not and never were a religion, in the sense that Christianity or even Islam is a religion. They satisfy some of the needs satisfied by a religion; and notably the need for doing certain things at certain dates; the need of the twin ideas of festivity and formality. But though they provide a man with a calendar they do not provide him with a creed. A man did not stand up and say 'I believe in Jupiter and Juno and Neptune,' etc., as he stands up and says 'I believe in God the Father Almighty' and the rest of the Apostles' Creed. Many believed in some and not in others, or more in some and less in others, or only in a very vague poetical sense in any. There was no moment when they were all collected into an orthodox order which men would fight and be tortured to keep intact. Still less did anybody ever say in that fashion: I believe in Odin and Thor and Freya, for outside Olympus even the Olympian order grows cloudy and chaotic. It seems clear to me that Thor was not a god at all but a hero. Nothing resembling a religion would picture anybody resembling a god as groping like a pigmy in a great cavern, that turned out to be the glove of a giant. That is the glorious ignorance called adventure. Thor may have been a great adventurer; but to call him a god is like trying to compare Jehovah with Jack and the Beanstalk. Odin seems to have been a real barbarian chief, possibly of the Dark Ages after Christianity. Polytheism fades away at its fringes into fairy-tales or barbaric memories; it is not a thing like monotheism as held by serious monotheists. Again it does satisfy the need to cry out on some uplifted name, or some noble memory in moments that are themselves noble and uplifted; such as the birth of a child or the saving of a city. But the name was so used by many to whom it was only a name. Finally it did satisfy, or rather it partially satisfied, a thing very deep in humanity indeed; the idea of surrendering something as the portion of the unknown powers; of pouring out wine upon the ground, of throwing a ring into the sea; in a word, of sacrifice. It is the wise and worthy idea of not taking our advantage to the full; of putting something in the other balance to ballast our dubious pride, of paying tithes to nature for our land. This deep truth of the danger of insolence, or being too big for our boots, runs through all the great Greek tragedies and makes them great. But it runs side by side with an almost cryptic agnosticism about the real nature of the gods to be propitiated. Where that gesture of surrender is most magnificent, as among the great Greeks, there is really much more idea that the man will be the better for losing the ox than that the god will be the better for getting it. It is said that in its grosser forms there are often actions grotesquely suggestive of the god really eating the sacrifice. But this fact is falsified by the error that I put first in this note on mythology. It is misunderstanding the psychology of day-dreams. A child pretending there is a goblin in a hollow tree will do a crude and material thing like leaving a piece of cake for him. A poet might do a more dignified and elegant thing, like bringing to the god fruits as well as flowers. But the degree of seriousness in both acts may be the same or it may vary in almost any degree. The crude fancy is no more a creed than the ideal fancy is a creed. Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had worshipped. The substance of all such paganism may be summarized thus. It is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone; in its own field reason does not restrain it all. It is vital to the view of all history that reason is something separate from religion even in the most rational of these civilizations. It is only as an afterthought, when such cults are decadent or on the defensive, that a few Neo-Platonists or a few Brahmins are found trying to rationalize them, and even then only by trying to allegorize them...

Mythology, then, sought God through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty, in the sense in which beauty includes much of the most grotesque ugliness. But the imagination has its own laws and therefore its own triumphs, which neither logicians nor men of science can understand. It remained true to that imaginative instinct through a thousand extravagances, through every crude cosmic pantomime of a pig eating the moon or the world being cut out of a cow, through all the dizzy convolutions and mystic malformations of Asiatic art, through all the stark and staring rigidity of Egyptian and Assyrian portraiture, through every kind of cracked mirror of mad art that seemed to deform the world and displace the sky, it remained true to something about which there can be no argument; something that makes it possible for some artist of some school to stand suddenly still before that particular deformity and say, 'My dream has come true!' Therefore do we all in fact feel that pagan or primitive myths are infinitely suggestive, so long as we are wise enough not to inquire what they suggest. Therefore we all feel what is meant by Prometheus stealing fire from heaven, until some prig of a pessimist or progressive person explains what it means... In this sense it is true that it is the ignorant who accept myths, but only because it is the ignorant who appreciate poems. Imagination has its own laws and triumphs; and a tremendous power began to clothe its images, whether images in the mind or in the mud, whether in the bamboo of the South Sea Islands or the marble of the mountains of Hellas. But there was always a trouble in the triumph, which in these pages I have tried to analyze in vain; but perhaps I might in conclusion state it thus.

The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even natural- to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful. He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller when he bowed. Henceforth anything that took away the gesture of worship would stunt and even maim him forever. Henceforth being merely secular would be a servitude and an inhibition. If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel he is in irons. We therefore feel throughout the whole of paganism a curious double feeling of trust and distrust. When the man makes the gesture of salutation and of sacrifice, when he pours out the libation or lifts up the sword, he knows he is doing a worthy and a virile thing. He knows he is doing one of the things for which a man was made. His imaginative experiment is therefore justified. But precisely because it began with imagination, there is to the end something of mockery in it, and especially in the object of it. This mockery, in the more intense moments of the intellect, becomes the almost intolerable irony of Greek tragedy. There seems a disproportion between the priest and the altar or between the altar and the god. The priest seems more solemn and almost more sacred than the god. All the order of the temple is solid and sane and satisfactory to certain parts of our nature; except the very center of it, which seems strangely mutable and dubious, like a dancing flame. It is the first thought round Which the whole has been built; and the first thought is still a fancy and almost a frivolity. In that strange place of meeting, the man seems more statuesque than the statue. He himself can stand forever in the noble and natural attitude of the statue of the Praying Boy. But whatever name be written on the pedestal, whether Zeus or Ammon or Apollo, the god Whom he worships is Proteus.

The Praying Boy may be said to express a need rather than to satisfy a need. It is by a normal and necessary action that his hands are lifted; but it is no less a parable that his hands are empty. About the nature of that need there will be more to say, but at this point it may be said that perhaps after all this true instinct, that prayer and sacrifice are a liberty and an enlargement, refers back to that vast and half-forgotten conception of universal fatherhood, which we have already seen everywhere fading from the morning sky. This is true; and yet it is not all the truth. There remains an indestructible instinct, in the poet as represented by the pagan, that he is not entirely wrong in localizing his God. It is something in the soul of poetry if not of piety. And the greatest of poets, when he defined the poet, did not say that he gave us the universe or the absolute or the infinite; but, in his own larger language, a local habitation and a name.

No poet is merely a pantheist; those who are counted most pantheistic, like Shelley, start with some local and particular image as the pagans did. After all, Shelley wrote of the skylark because it was a skylark. You could not issue an imperial or international translation of it for use in South Africa, in which it was changed to an ostrich. So the mythological imagination moves as it were in circles, hovering either to find a place or to return to it. In a word, mythology is a search; it is something that combines a recurrent desire with a recurrent doubt, mixing a most hungry sincerity in the idea of seeking for a place with a most dark and deep and mysterious levity about all the places found. So far could the lonely imagination lead, and we must turn later to the lonely reason. Nowhere along this road did the two ever travel together.

That is where all these things differed from religion or the reality in which these different dimensions met in a sort of solid. They differed from the reality not in what they looked like but in what they were. A picture may look like a landscape, may look in every detail exactly like a landscape. The only detail in which it differs is that it is not a landscape. The difference is only that which divides a portrait of Queen Elizabeth from Queen Elizabeth. Only in this mythical and mystical world the portrait could exist before the person; and the portrait was therefore more vague and doubtful. But anybody who has felt and fed on the atmosphere of these myths will know what I mean, when I say that in one sense they did not really profess to be realities. The pagans had dreams about realities; and they would have been the first to admit, in their own words, that some came through the gate of ivory and others through the gate of horn. The dreams do indeed tend to be very vivid dreams when they touch on those tender or tragic things, which can really make a sleeper awaken with the sense that his heart has been broken in his sleep. They tend continually to hover over certain passionate themes of meeting and parting, of a life that ends in death or a death that is the beginning of life. Demeter wanders over a stricken world looking for a stolen child; Isis stretches out her arms over the earth in vain to gather the limbs of Osiris; and there is lamentation upon the hills for Atys and through the woods for Adonis.

There mingles with all such mourning the mystical and profound sense that death can be a deliverer and an appeasement; that such death gives us a divine blood for a renovating river and that all good is found in gathering the broken body of the god. We may truly call these fore-shadowing; so long as we remember that fore-shadowing are shadows. And the metaphor of a shadow happens to hit very exactly the truth that is very vital here. For a shadow is a shape but not texture. These things were something like the real thing; and to say that they were like is to say that they were different. Saying something is like a dog is another way of saying it is not a dog; and it is in this sense of identity that a myth is not a man. Nobody really thought of Isis as a human being; nobody really thought of Demeter as a historical character, nobody thought of Adonis as the founder of a Church. There was no idea that any one of them had changed the world; but rather that their recurrent death and life bore the sad and beautiful burden of the changelessness of the world. Not one of them was a revolution, save in the sense of the revolution of the sun and moon. Their whole meaning is missed if we do not see that they mean the shadows that we are and the shadows that we pursue. In certain sacrificial and communal aspects they naturally suggest what sort of a god might satisfy men; but they do not profess to be satisfied. Anyone who says they do is a bad judge of poetry...

And it is utterly unreal to argue that these images in the mind, admired entirely in the abstract, were even in the same world with a living man and a living polity that were worshipped because they were concrete. We might as well say that a boy playing at robbers is the same as a man in his first day in the trenches; or that a boy's first fancies about 'the not impossible she' are the same as the sacrament of marriage. They are fundamentally different exactly where they are superficially similar; we might almost say they are not the same even when they are the same. They are only different because one is real and the other is not. I do not mean merely that I myself believe that one is true and the other is not. I mean that one was never meant to be true in the same sense as the other. The sense in which it was meant to be true I have tried to suggest vaguely here, but it is undoubtedly very subtle and almost indescribable... We know better than the scholars, even those of us who are no scholars, what was in that hollow cry that went forth over the dead Adonis and why the Great Mother had a daughter wedded to death. We have entered more deeply than they into the Eleusinian Mysteries and have passed a higher grade, where gate within gate guarded the wisdom of Orpheus. We know the meaning of all the myths. We know the last secret revealed to the perfect initiate. And it is not the voice of a priest or a prophet saying 'These things are.' It is the voice of a dreamer and an idealist crying, 'Why cannot these things be?'

The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton, Part 1, Chapter 5


Rationality and Modernity

At the beginning of the twentieth century Simmel foresaw that the "deepest problem of modern life" would lie in the "attempts of the individual to maintain independence . . . of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life." Not everyone accepts Simmers priorities in these concerns, but there is wide agreement on the form and direction of contemporary change.

Industrial civilization is now in the throes of a historically unprecedented, meteoric realignment of social, economic, and cognitive patterning Max Weber called "rationalization" and more generally is referred to as "modernity." Institutions and relationships are being permeated by an urge toward logical planning, structured management, measurement and calculation on all fronts.

Some argue this Enlightenment-spawned project goes well enough. Rational economic organization combines capitalism, machine process, and cybernetic control to produce goods and services in unprecedented abundance. Technology, rationalization's concrete manifestation, provides the leverage to pry away the Earth's crust, capture the power of the sun, and fling men to the moon. It brings within grasp the abilities to suppress polio, reattach retinas with tiny blades of laser light, and restructure the genetic foundations of living organisms. Reason in law continues to enfranchise and even opportunities, increase tolerance for diversity, and broaden the range of peoples included in self-determination. These are the benefits claimed for rationality. Others point to the deficiencies.

In the French tradition the rate of change in opportunity structures outstrips the normative order, leaving persons "separated from the social substance" as Hegel put it, anomic in Durkheim's terms, confused, destabilized, disoriented, cut off from the collective conscience. The rationalized world increasingly becomes an artificial product of mechanical manipulation, estranged and separated from conquered nature. Modern science replaces primitive superstition, but with new ways of knowing comes a vast new unknown. The pantheon of ancient gods, the mysterious animation of ever present spirits and sprites have vanished. The once-sacred stream is channeled and dammed, the sacred grove measured for board-feet of timber. Astronomers and astronauts reach out into the expanding universe and discover humanity's insignificance and solitude. Instead of the surety of God's grace there remains only the ability to reject null hypotheses, to reduce the probability of error. Knowledge of material things is gained, but encompassing, spiritual understanding of life is lost. The residuum is the sparse legacy of Democritus: atoms, empty space, and "mere opinion."

Rationality begins to set its own agenda. Expanding scientific inquiry, commercial applications, and the burgeoning affairs of state demand ever larger and more specialized organizations, further dispassionate management and refined calculation. Late-stage capitalism and monolithic governments reduce persons to objects and objects to commodities, occasioning what Hegel called a "separation from self," an estrangement Marx labeled the alienation of labor. Workplace loyalty and tradition are replaced by meritocracy and cost-benefit analysis; craft and skill are subjugated to the depersonalized routines of automated mass assembly. Personal worth is increasingly gauged by the control, display, and consumption of material goods and visible services rather than one's role in producing them.

How are these intrusions met? Not well, according to many accounts. Faced with the growing power and complexity of modern institutions, the diminishing individual no longer hopes to comprehend or control even a fraction of the forces that surround her or him. Bloated, sclerotic social structures, amoral inconstancy, powerlessness, purposelessness— these too are the legacies claimed for rationalization. In response, the human condition declines in two directions: toward frenetic hyper-conformity, the "one-dimensional," "other-directed," "organizational," or "protean" marionettes of modem bureaucratic life; or toward disintegrating deviance—suicide, crime, mental illness, political apathy or extremism, and other destructive behaviors and beliefs.

Dancing at Armageddon, Richard G. Mitchell


Modern Science and Matter-Mind Dualism

Figuring in the epistemological dualism of subject vs. object was the parallel but ontological dualism of spirit vs. matter, or mental vs. material. This dualistic problem revolved around trying to decide of what basic "stuff" the universe was composed: was it all nothing but material atoms, arranged in such a way that consciousness was just an illusion, being in reality reducible to the interplay of physical particles so that "mind" is really just a conglomeration of matter? But what of the argument that all sensations of "matter" exist nowhere but in somebody's mind—doesn't that demonstrate that matter is really nothing but an idea? Ever since Plato separated ideas from experience, the argument as to which is "really" real has continued, with no side clearly winning.

Is consciousness really matter, or is matter really consciousness? The idealists, or mentalists, just could not stomach the thought that consciousness was not much more than a fancy lump of clay, differing not at heart from rocks, tables, and dirt; thus, they were always on hand with the question, "But where does the impression of matter have its existence?" The answer, of course, is that material impressions exist only in consciousness, and so the conclusion is obvious: all matter is but a mental idea. This, however, was too much for the materialists, who would reply, "Well, then, where does consciousness come from?” The answer here being, "From nothing but physical processes in the human brain," and so the opposite conclusion is equally obvious: all ideas are just material. Emotions were high, for both sides of the argument could be put with equal persuasion, and so the final decision usually rested upon individual inclination, as is shown in the following story told by Eddington:

When Dr. Johnson felt himself getting tied up in argument over “Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal," he answered, "striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, — 'I refute it thus.' " Just what that action assured him of is not very obvious; but apparently he found it comforting. And to-day the matter-of-fact scientist feels the same impulse to recoil from these flights of thought back to something kick-able, although he ought to be aware by this time that what Rutherford has left us of the large stone is scarcely worth kicking.

As this story hints, the old science had allied itself with the materialists, for lumps of matter could be "kicked," that is, measured and verified, whereas no scientist had come up with any sort of instrument capable of recording spirituality. The new quantum physicists didn't argue with this—they certainly couldn't find any spiritual stuff either—but, and here is the point, neither could they find any material stuff. As one physicist put it:

Our conception of substance is only vivid so long as we do not face it. It begins to fade when we analyze it... the solid substance of things is another illusion. We have chased the solid substance from the continuous liquid to the atom, from the atom to the electron, and there we have lost it.

And Bertrand Russell summed it up succinctly—"The world may be called physical or mental or both or neither as we please; in fact the words serve no purpose." In short, quantum physics had taken another dualism, that of mental vs. material, to the annihilating edge, and there it had vanished.

The Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber, Chapter 2

Quantum Revolution: The Breakdown of Subject-Object Duality

By 1900, science was convinced that it had nearly reached the end of the Quest for Reality. As a matter of fact, physicists were leaving the field, for as one put it, there was nothing left to do but calculate the next decimal point—every phenomenon in the physical universe had been neatly described in the strictly deterministic terms of cause and effect. In one sense, it was still the old Judaeo-Christian world of a political assembly of finite chunks and bits of matter governed by absolute (i.e., measurable) law—the only item missing was the Monarch Himself, who was looked upon by most scientists as the Great Watchmaker—that Big Mechanic who initially wound the universe up and then, struck by an unexpected case of laziness, sat back to watch it unwind. Yet scientists were now convinced that they had, through objective measurement and verification, discovered the universal and absolute laws of the Monarch. Every phenomenon in nature could be reduced to small lumps of matter and these in turn were rigidly defined by Newtonian mechanics.

There were, however, two major phenomena that utterly eluded explanation by classical mechanics. One was the photoelectric effect; the other is now referred to with a chuckle as the ultraviolet catastrophe. It was indeed a catastrophe, for it marked the first crack in the "rigid frame" of scientific dualism.

The problem concerned the radiation of energy from certain thermal bodies, and the experimental facts in no way correlated with the existing physical theories. To this puzzle came the brilliance of Max Planck, and in a daring and radical leap of genius, he proposed that energy is not continuous, as had been assumed, but that it comes in discrete packets or quanta, and with this the "rigid frame" cracked wide open. Albert Einstein took Planck's theory and successfully applied it to the photoelectric effect (the second major phenomenon that had not submitted to classical physics), while Neils Bohr applied it to sub-atomic physics. Louis de Broglie, using these insights, showed that matter as well as energy produced waves, and this led Erwin Schroedinger to formulate the monumental quantum mechanics. And all of this in the brief span of hardly a generation.

All of these formidable insights culminated in an inescapable yet devastating conclusion, formulated as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, whose implications were (and still are) enormous. Recall that science had been proceeding on the dualism of subject vs. object, of observer vs. event, with Reality allegedly being that which could be objectively measured and verified. This dualistic investigation eventually extended into the world of sub-atomic physics, and scientists naturally wanted to pinpoint and measure the "particles", such as electrons, comprising the atom, for these were supposedly the realities of realities, the ultimate and irreducible things composing all of nature.

Exactly here was the problem. To measure anything requires some sort of tool or instrument, yet the electron weighs so little that any conceivable device, even one as "light" as a photon, would cause the electron to change position in the very act of trying to measure it! This was not a technical problem but, so to speak, a problem sewn into the very fabric of the universe. These physicists had reached the annihilating edge, and the assumption that had brought them there, the assumption that the observer was separate from the event, the assumption that one could dualistically tinker with the universe without affecting it, was found untenable. In some mysterious fashion, the subject and the object were intimately united, and the myriad of theories that had assumed otherwise were now in shambles. As the physicist Eddington exclaimed:

Something unknown is doing we don't know what—that is what our theory amounts to. It does not sound a particularly illuminating theory. I have read something like it elsewhere—

.. . The slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

And Haldane muttered that "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose." This inability to totally pinpoint the "ultimate realities" of the universe was mathematically stated as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and it marked the end of the classical and purely dualistic approach to reality. Declared Whitehead:

The progress of science has now reached a turning point. The stable foundations of physics have broken up.... The old foundations of scientific thought are becoming unintelligible. Time, space, matter, material, ether, electricity, mechanism, organism, configuration, structure, pattern, function, all require reinterpretation. What is the sense of talking about a mechanical explanation when you do not know what you mean by mechanics?

Louis de Broglie, who had himself played a prominent role in the "quantum revolution", expressed its profoundly cataclysmic nature by noting that "on the day when quanta, surreptitiously, were introduced the vast and grandiose edifice of classical physics found itself shaken to its very foundations. In the history of the intellectual world there have been few upheavals comparable to this." The quantum revolution was so cataclysmic because it attacked not one or two conclusions of classical physics but its very cornerstone, the foundation upon which the whole edifice was erected, and that was the subject-object dualism. That which was Real was supposed to be that which could be objectively observed and measured, yet these "ultimate realities" could not themselves be totally observed or measured under any circumstances, and that is, to say the least, a sloppy form of Reality. Every time you try to measure these ultimate realities they move—it was almost like calling an apple absolute truth and then trying to bob for it. As Sullivan put it, "We cannot observe the course of nature without disturbing it," or Andrade, "Observation means interference with what we are observing .. . observation disturbs reality." It was abundantly clear to these physicists that objective measurement and verification could no longer be the mark of absolute reality, because the measured object could never be completely separated from the measuring subject—the measured and the measurer, the verified and the verifier, at this level, are one and the same. The subject cannot tinker with the object, because subject and object are ultimately one and the same thing.

Now at about the same time that the "rigid frame" of scientific dualism was collapsing in physics, a young mathematician named Kurt Godel (then only 25 years old) was authoring what is surely the most incredible treatise of its kind. In essence, it is a type of logical analogue to the physical Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Known today as the "Incompleteness Theorem," it embodies a rigorous mathematical demonstration that every encompassing system of logic must have at least one premise that cannot be proven or verified without contradicting itself. Thus, "it is impossible to establish the logical consistency of any complex deductive system except by assuming principles of reasoning whose own internal consistency is as open to question as that of the system itself." Thus logically as well as physically, "objective" verification is not a mark of reality (expect in consensual pretense). If all is to be verified, how do you verify the verifier, since he is surely part of the all?

In other words, when the universe is severed into a subject vs. an object, into one state which sees vs. one state which is seen, something always gets left out. In this condition, the universe "will always partially elude itself." No observing system can observe itself observing. The seer cannot see itself seeing. Every eye has a blind spot. And it is for precisely this reason that at the basis of all such dualistic attempts we find only: Uncertainty, Incompleteness!

At the bottom of the physical world, an Uncertainty Principle; at the bottom of the mental world, an Incompleteness Theorem—the same gap, the same universe eluding itself, the same "something-gets-left-outness." When science had started with the dualism between subject and object, it had started badly, and by the first decades of the 20th century, it had run its course to that annihilating edge.

The Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber, Chapter 2

Divide and Conquer: The Rise and Fall of Scientific Dualism

This incredible story has its beginning in 17th-century Europe. For 300 years prior to this, European man, slowly breaking down the wall between man and nature imposed by church scholasticism, had begun a passionate although somewhat chaotic exploration of nature and the universe. This was the Age of Discovery, of Renaissance, of Exploration, of men such as Gutenberg, Petrarch, de Gamma, Columbus, Cortez, daVinci, Michaelangelo, Titian, Marco Polo, Copernicus. Man no longer viewed himself as a passive pawn in the Divine Game, but set out to explore and investigate in a thousand different directions: new ideals, new geographical vistas, new modes of experiencing his personal existence. This collective explorative urge, however, remained rather blind, diffuse, and uncoordinated, until it was concentrated and channeled by the introduction of the single most influential dualistic idea ever conceived by the human mind. This discovery was not just one among numerous other discoveries of this age: it was, in L. L. Whyte's phrase, the "discovery of a method of discovery," or in Whitehead's words, the "invention of a method of invention." It was, in fact, the idea that formed our present age. L. L. Whyte narrates:

Prior to (1600] the only developed systems of thought had been religious or philosophic organizations of subjective experience, while such objective observations of nature as had been collected had remained relatively unorganized. Medieval rationalism was subjective; there was as yet no rational philosophy of nature of comparable complexity or precision. For 2,000 years man had been observing, comparing, and seeking to classify his observations, but as yet there was no system of thought concerning nature which provided any method which might be systematically used for facilitating the process of discovery....

We have reached a moment of great significance. About 1600 Kepler and Galileo simultaneously and independently formulated the principle that the laws of nature are to be discovered by measurement, and applied this principle in their own work. Where Aristotle had classified, Kepler and Galileo sought to measure.

Within the span of a century, European man had become totally intoxicated with this new idea of measurement, of quantity: it was not just the progressive betterment of mankind or the assurance of human happiness that was promised by the new science of measurement, but a knowledge of Absolute and Ultimate Reality that had escaped the men of all previous ages.

Nature and natures laws lay hid in night; God said, "Let Newton be." and all was light.
Ultimate Reality was that which could be measured, and European man had begun the frenzied Quest.

Implicit in this search were two other ideas that became welded to that of quantity: Reality was objective, and Reality could be verified. All knowledge was to be reduced to objective dimensions, to the "primary" objective qualities of number, position, and motion, while the subjective aspects, the "secondary" qualities of the emotions, senses, and intuitions were to be completely exterminated, for they were ultimately unreal. "True observation," as Comte would soon declare, "must necessarily be external to the observer." That nagging question of the dualism of subject vs. object was not answered by the new science, it was simply sidestepped: the subject was proclaimed unreal.

The methodology of measurement became the new religion because it allowed, for the first time, a systematic procedure for empirically verifying a proposition. No longer would it be sufficient to prove an idea by subjective intellection alone, as had been the case prior to homo scientificus. There is the story that Aristotle once gave an elaborate and rigorous demonstration that Mrs. Aristotle had to have exactly 42 teeth in her mouth—it never dawned on him to open her mouth and actually count them, for it was impossible, as his reasoning clearly showed, that she could have any other number of teeth. Philosophy from that time on was by and large a case of grown men, each convinced of the certainty of his position, yelling at one another, "It is so." "No, it is not so." "Yes, it is so " "No, it is not so." "Yes it is." "No it isn't." "Tis!" Tisn't!" As Bertrand Russell confessed, "This may seem odd, but that is not my fault." At any rate, no longer would this bickering be the accepted case. All propositions were to be confined to that which was objectively measurable and verifiable. In short, if something didn't submit to these criteria, then it just did not exist or plainly was not worth knowing. This is exactly the type of powerful and consistent methodology that is potentially capable of destroying dualisms, and although the scientists of those times didn't realize it, they had started to build upon the Cartesian dualism of subject vs. object a methodology of such persistence that it would eventually crumble the very dualism upon which it rested. Classical science was destined to be self-liquidating.

That this could even happen reflects a positive virtue of the new scientific method, namely, the willingness to pursue a course to its ultimate end, admitting and weighing the evidence as it proceeded. In this respect, it was quite unlike any of the other systems of thought that remained for the most part "closed." For instance, fundamentalistic Christian thought was (and is today) "closed", in the sense that any proper self-criticism is denied, for anyone who questions the dogma is obviously being put up to it by the Devil himself. We know this to be true because the dogma tells us so. "What is the most sacred and authoritative book ever written in the world?" "The Bible." "How do you know?" "It says so in the Bible." This may seem odd, but that is not my fault.

On some levels at least, science was an open-system. Although it flatly rejected the non-measurable, non-objective, and non-verifiable, it nevertheless pursued its own course honestly and rigorously to its ultimate conclusion, which was very soon to arrive. Heisenberg states:

It had not been possible to see what could be wrong with the fundamental concepts like matter, space, time, and causality that had been so extremely successful in the history of science. Only experimental research itself, carried out with all the refined equipment that technical science could offer . . . provided the basis for a critical analysis—or, one may say, enforced the critical analysis—of the concepts, and finally resulted in the dissolution of the rigid frame.

The Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber, Chapter 2


Wilder Penfield and the Brain-Mind Split

The philosopher William James called the relationship of brain to mind "the ultimate of ultimate problems". Neuroscientists who have looked at the problem have usually reduced it to two hypotheses—one, that the action of the brain explains the mind or two, that there are two elements: the brain and the mind. Sir Charles Sherrington said that "our being should consist of two fundamental elements offers, I suppose, no greater inherent improbability than that it should rest on one only." Lord Adrian who shared the Nobel Prize with him for work in neuroscience said in 1966 that "as soon as we let ourselves contemplate our own place in the picture we seem to be stepping outside the boundaries of natural science."

Sir Wilder Penfield however goes well beyond Lord Adrian and in probing the nature of the brain-mind, he put down his conclusions in a way which required great intellectual courage.

Wilder Penfield was one of the greatest neurosurgeons of the twentieth century. His account of how he began his exploration of the nature of brain-mind makes interesting reading— "While listening to the lectures of Sir Charles Sherrington as a medical student in Oxford, I realized that there was a thrilling undiscovered country to be explored in the mechanisms of the mammalian nervous system. Through it one might approach the mystery of the mind if only one could deal with the human brain as Sherrington had analyzed the reflexes of the animal brain. I have asked three distinguished friends from three different disciplines to join me in the enterprise: William Feindel, a neurosurgeon; Charles Hendel. a philosopher and Sir Charles Symonds, a neurologist." This sounds almost like the beginning of a John Buchanan thriller where Richard Hannay and his friends meet in the cozy atmosphere of a London club to track down an international conspiracy, except that here the quest was much more exciting, the nature of the human mind itself. In the book which ensued—The Mystery of the Mind (1975)—Penfield propounds the thesis, extremely courageous for a neuroseientist, that mind exists independent of brain.

Penfield concedes that the brain resembles a computer in many ways— in its integrative and coordinating action; in the functioning of the hippocampus with its keys of access to the record of the stream of consciousness and its ability to reactivate the store of memories and in the working of the interpretive cortex which makes possible the scanning and recall of experiential memory. He speaks of the automaton in the brain as "a tiling that makes use of the reflexes and the skills, inborn and acquired, that are housed in the computer. The automatic computer that is ever active within us, seems to be the most amazing of all biological computers". However he also points out that "the human automaton which replaces man when the highest brain mechanism is inactivated is a thing without the capacity to make completely new decisions. It is a thing without the capacity to form new memory records and a thing without that indefinable attribute, a sense of humour. The automaton is incapable of thrilling to the beauty of a sunset or of experiencing contentment, happiness, love, compassion. These like all awareness are functions of the mind."

Penfield conducted hundreds of operations on the brain and was an internationally renowned neurosurgeon. When the great Russian physicist Lev Landau suffered brain injury in a motor accident it was Penfield who was summoned all the way from Montreal to attend to him. Penfield did pioneering work in cerebral localization. His very deep study of neuro-anatomy at both the theoretical and practical levels lead him to conclude that the brain contains two elements— "an automatic human computer and the highest brain-mechanism which play interactive roles selectively inhibitory and purposeful." But on the question of whether this provides a complete explanation of the working of the mind he says, "After years of studying the emerging mechanism within the human brain, my own answer is 'no'. Mind comes into action and goes out of action with the highest brain mechanism, it is true. But the mind has energy. The form of that energy is different from that of neuronal potentials that travel the axon pathways..." He amplifies this statement in clinical terms when he says that "neuronal action begins in the highest brain mechanism. Here is the meeting of mind and brain. The psychico-physical frontier is here... It is clear that much is accomplished by automatic and reflex mechanisms. It is not to be accounted for by any neuronal mechanism that I can discover." He put the position even more categorically later when he said. "To suppose that consciousness or the mind has localisation is a failure to understand neurophysiology."

At the end of his remarkable book, Penfield pointed out that "a century of scientific progress has passed since Hughlings Jackson suggested that there were high levels of functional organization in the brain... Since his time various partially independent mechanisms have been identified and mapped in the cerebral cortex and the higher brain stem. None of them can explain the mind. The mind remains a mystery."

Last Frontier of the Mind - Challenges of the Digital Age, Mohandas Moses, Chapter 3