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The Outer World

Ever since Kant revolutionized modern speculative philosophy by his "Critique of pure reason," in which he shows that the physical senses can give us no absolutely correct information concerning the essential nature of things, but that the objective world we see, is obliged to conform in appearance to certain conditions of perception existing a priori in the mind, the chief concern of philosophy has centered around the problem of consciousness. Men are not satisfied merely to ascertain what appears to be; they want to know what is. What can we know of Absolute Reality? What relation do phenomena, appearances, bear to the essential nature of things? Why do they bear such relations? These are questions that have engaged the minds of the profoundest thinkers of modern times. The doctrine, in its various forms, of a Deeper Self is the natural outcome of this introspective study. Ask a superficial observer of life to state his definition of the term Self, and very likely he will be surprised to find that its meaning is open to question; for it seems to him too obvious to call for a serious attempt at defining. Terms of such universal acceptance as Yourself, Myself and Itself, are commonly supposed to convey exact meanings permanently established beyond a doubt—meanings which are unalterable, the same for all people, and which, therefore, do not admit of question. But terms are intended to indicate real things, and every person has his own peculiar conception of the nature of Reality; hence no two people use any given term to designate precisely the same entity. The current popular thought determines for nearly all persons, within certain pretty definite limits, the meaning they shall attach to it. But aside from this general agreement, each one must interpret in his own way the reality for which it stands. For example, the thorough-going materialist supposes that his very existence depends on certain definite combinations of physical forces, the proper relations of which are indispensable to consciousness; while the idealist sees in the visible form only a manifestation of a transcendental, spiritual ego, whose existence is independent of finite conditions. Certainly these two constructions represent a disagreement broad enough to lead one to pause and investigate the subject more fully, before assuming to accurately and conclusively define, in clumsy figures of speech, a reality that admits of such widely different interpretations.

Whenever we attempt to define the term Self, or even to form an adequate intellectual conception of its meaning, we find it enshrouded in the deepest mystery. The reality for which it stands, evades the grasp of our understanding; the more diligently we search for it, the further we seem from finding it. It is impossible to apprehend its nature objectively; we know it solely through subjective self-contemplation. It vanishes whenever we try to locate it, and we are compelled to seek it elsewhere. We recognize its presence as we do that of a star in the heavens, the orb of which is invisible to us; we see only the effulgence it sheds forth. Indeed, in attempting to locate the faintest fixed stars visible to the naked eye, it is necessary to look aside from the exact positions they are known to occupy; for when we gaze at them directly, they grow imperceptible. Quite as elusive, is the essential nature of things when we try to discover it in an outer world. No real thing can be located. It is not "Lo, here! or Lo, there!" Therefore we say, it must be concealed within the material form. What, then, do we mean by "within?" Take for illustration a rosebud. Nothing could be easier to identify. We readily recognize it by such external features as form, color, odor. But whence come those qualities by which we distinguish it from other objects? What of their ultimate source? At first we see only an outer envelope, the calyx. The visible form we associate with the name Rosebud, then, is only that of the calyx. And if in turn we seek to know in the same manner what the calyx itself is, we are baffled in that also, for we see its outside alone. Then we strip off the calyx and find numerous layers of petals; but neither are they, any more than is the calyx, the essence of the thing we call a rosebud. So we persevere until we come to the stamens and pistils; yet even those are not the rosebud itself. But nothing else remains; where, then, is the "inner" life we imagined to exist there?

Throughout our search we have seen simply the outer aspect of something; and what is the something? No amount of analyzing brings us any nearer the reality. Definition fails to acquaint us with it. Is its essential nature, therefore, unknowable? We search in vain for life within the bud—in fact we are foiled in every attempt to find an absolute inside. Whenever we dissect any object in search of the inside we conceive it to possess, we discover nothing but other outsides. We recognize the outside of things by means of physical senses, but they never reveal an inside; yet we are just as positive that an inside does exist, as if it were visible to the eye of sense. Clearly the idea of internality must be acquired in some other way. Inasmuch as an inside is never discovered by the senses, the knowledge that it certainly exists must be derived from some other source. Here is the paradox of matter:—we cannot conceive of an exterior without its interior; yet the interior of matter is never visible. Verily we are bound to confess that matter has no inside corresponding in appearance to its external aspect. It is the symbol by which we recognize life exteriorly—our outward interpretation of life. The symbolical outer world has always been recognized by deep thinkers and appreciative observers as a commentary on the inner life. Poets and seers find the inner mirrored in the outer. Philosophers and scientists are only beginning to appreciate the full significance of this fact. Man becomes acquainted with his own nature by tracing analogous features in the outside world. The outer corresponds to the inner as does the outside of a circle to its inside. The inside and the outside are totally unlike; one is concave, the other convex. A superficial observer, on looking at a hollow sphere from the outside, would see nothing about it to suggest the view he obtains from the inside; yet the two distinct impressions are derived from contemplating the same thing in its different aspects. The world we see without—in space—and the world we see within—in time—are objective and subjective manifestations of one Reality. It is inevitable, then, that we should find analogies subsisting between them. By penetrating deep enough, we may discern something of the inner significance of every outward manifestation; and likewise we may discover an outer symbol for every inward experience. If we thus discerningly study the universe we see without, it will come to hold for us a deeper meaning and interest than attach to it as an aggregation of objects. Matter is mind viewed exteriorly. Every object, process, or formation we observe in our symbolical outer order has its inner significance. Every outside has its interior aspect, and vice versa.

Let us, then, undertake a brief analysis of the outward forms of life—the world in space— preparatory to contemplating the interior aspect of life.

Every normal human mind is capable of recognizing three dimensions of space; and it is by reason of this three-dimensional conception that one is able to perceive material substances, bodies. Scientific investigation reveals the fact that all material bodies are composed of inconceivably minute atoms or centers of force; that those atoms, even in the densest substances, such as flint or diamond, are not contiguous, but are so widely distributed that the intervening space exceeds by hundreds of times the space occupied by the atoms themselves; so that, were it possible to construct a magnifying glass of sufficient power, the atoms of which the diamond is composed would very likely appear quite as diffused as the tail of a comet. The atoms are not stationary, but exceedingly active, and display a variety of motive tendencies. Under certain conditions they collect in groups as atomic families, molecules, which are susceptible to the influence of a superior, organizing, formative Intelligence. Lord Kelvin estimates that were a drop of water magnified so that it would appear the size of the earth, each molecule would appear as large as a pea; also, that under ordinary conditions of humidity, the number of molecules contained in a cubic inch of the earth's atmosphere, would be equal to the number ten raised to the twenty-third power. So intensely active are the molecules in the atmosphere, that Maxwell calculated that each one must experience eight hundred billion collisions in a single second.

Again, as we look upward in the scale of material forms, we find that worlds are organized into solar systems, and solar systems into still more stupendous groups. And all this magnificent exhibition of exterior forms, great and small, manifests one supreme law of attraction. Nothing is inanimate; there is no such thing as "dead matter."

Prof. Dolbear says: "The study of molecular science is steadily making us aware that that which we call matter is something very different in its nature from what men have formerly thought. It has generally been assumed that matter is dead, inert, and made of nothing; whereas it turns out to have a basis on something which we call ether, the properties of which are so radically different from those of matter as exhibited in physical phenomena, that no conclusion as to its possibilities can be drawn except as they are manifested in the attributes of matter. The so-called laws of nature represent only a portion of the laws of matter. The latter are called mechanical, and phenomena of that class are all subservient to what are called mechanical laws.

"The atoms of matter appear to be manufactured articles, and therefore have a substratum; as they possess energy, energy must have been in existence prior to the existence of the first atom. And as the mechanical activities, such as physical science at present has to do with, show to us the utter impossibility of constructing a single one, it leaves us with the persuasion that the energy in existence before matter, was not of the mechanical kind. For that kind is what we have to deal with at present. Choice is exhibited in such disposition of the energy as is displayed in the creation of matter."

Science has already proven the material world, as it was formerly conceived to exist, to be a myth. Forces are no longer regarded as objective entities. Light, heat, electricity, magnetism, sound, and even matter itself, are now treated as modes of manifestation of a universal energy.

When we attempt to analyze the forms of our outer order, in an ascending scale, we at first recognize the earth as a complete unit of itself. But we soon find that this unit represents a fraction of a larger unit, our solar system. Again, this solar system is a fraction of a still greater unit or system. We may gain the very faintest sort of appreciation of the distances involved in these calculations by considering the fact that light, traveling at the approximate rate of 190,000 miles per second, requires over three years to reach the earth from the member of this system nearest our sun. Even these figures are utterly incomprehensible; yet the most powerful telescopes reveal the existence of at least millions of similar solar units, organized into systems extending out, out, out, into infinite space, and finally disappearing beyond the range of any mechanical device yet invented to aid the eye in its search. Supposing it were possible to continue increasing the power of the telescope indefinitely, how much nearer, in all probability, would we be to a final solution of the problem of this natural order? It is even more difficult to conceive that an ultimate boundary to it exists in space than it is to simply imagine it to be infinite in extent. Any attempt to encompass the material universe with our thought, or even to estimate its magnitude, then, gives us at the very outset a hint of the possible existence of an unlimited number of worlds. And, after all, is it more difficult to account for such a universe than it is to account for the existence of any external universe at all?

The microscope reveals a world of life in every drop of water. Could we exchange our power of observation for that of the tiniest animalcule thus brought to our notice, the outer universe we now perceive, would totally disappear from view, and another, altogether beyond the scope of our imagination or powers of description at present, would open to view. We would find no trees, birds, rocks, mountains; that which now appears to us in the guise of such bodies, would be resolved into vast unexplored worlds of hitherto unperceived forms.

Let us now turn from these outer demonstrations, in which we observe concrete units of matter multiplicable and divisible far beyond the limits of our comprehension, to the science of pure mathematics. Starting with the ideal unit as a basis, and multiplying it until we have ten, we consider that a unit in the tens column. Likewise, ten times ten gives us a unit in the hundreds column. Evidently we may continue multiplying units and groups of units, until we tire of the process, without reaching a possible limit of notation. And so with dividing. In either case the number of available units is only limited by our thought; it is purely ideal. As long as we hold the infinite conception of number, the demonstration may continue ad infinitum. Few people have ever actually counted even one million; yet every child is absolutely certain that figures would be forthcoming by which he could express his enumeration of so many units, should he desire to count them. The supposition that this would be possible, rests on a purely rational basis. Long before one reaches a million by actual count of units, he is satisfied that the process might be continued as long as he chose—in other words, that the supply of abstract units could never be exhausted. But if one finds it wearisome to count a million, he can readily estimate a much greater number, under favorable circumstances, by resorting to a process of reasoning. Through the rational faculty we become acquainted with the meaning of infinity as associated with numbers.

Let us again assume our original starting point; only, instead of ascending the scale, let us descend it; instead of multiplying concrete units of matter, let us divide them. We know that most molecules, like solar systems, are compound; that most molecular units at least, are divisible into lesser, atomic units. Chemistry has to deal with an "ultimate atom." But in what sense does this atomic form indicate the ultimate limit of divisibility in matter? Probably only by representing the limit of our ability to register phenomena of disintegration, and to subdivide material forms. The latest scientific investigations point to the conclusion that physical phenomena are due to various modes of a universal energy, and that matter itself, as an objective phenomenon, represents certain definite modes of ethereal activity. At first, matter and energy appear to be essentially different in nature and origin; but scientific experiments indicate that, after all, matter is only a manifestation of energy. The atomic hypothesis of Lord Kelvin, according to which atoms are merely vortex rings in the ether, tends to corroborate the theory that the phenomenon Matter, like light, heat, electricity, and magnetism, is an effect produced by ethereal activity. And still further investigations pursued by Prof. Elmer Gates, indicate that even the ether itself is composed of inconceivably minute particles. If this be the case, we must suppose that some still more subtle medium fills the interspaces between the particles of which it is composed. Where, then, is the process of subdivision to end? Is it not reasonable to infer that it is capable of indefinite continuance? We are obliged to conceive space to be limitless, co-extensive with our thought of infinity; we know that worlds are organized into systems, and those into systems of systems on a still more stupendous scale, until it seems well-nigh absurd to attempt to postulate an ultimate boundary for the world of matter, beyond which would lie a blank, meaningless void.

Here the transcendental doctrine of Kant relieves us of our dilemma, by showing that space has only a subjective value; that it is a mental condition governing the perception of things outwardly, and not an object of perception. Now if matter "has a basis on the ether," and if the ether is limitless, co-extensive with space, and if space is subjective in its character, the conclusion is well-nigh inevitable that there can be no absolutely definite limit, either to the number or the extent of material bodies; that the same difficulties attend their computation, which are encountered in dealing with abstract units; that the unit of matter is purely ideal, like the unit which furnishes the basis of enumeration in mathematics.

The idea of the relative value of size must already have occurred to us, in following this discussion. We have no absolute standard of size. Any line may be considered either long or short, according to the length of our measuring rule. If we measure with an inch rule, a yard-stick seems long; if with a ten-foot pole, it seems short. To one riding in an express train, a mile seems short; to the creeping infant, it seems long. By conceiving space to be infinite, we imply that our standard of measurement is finite. To the animalcule sporting in a drop of water, the ocean would seem boundless, were the animalcular mind capable of such a thought; but to the astronomer, the ocean represents a very small portion of an insignificant planet, itself like a grain of sand on the seashore.

We judge objects to be large or small by comparison with the human body. How absurd to claim that a transient, thought-created phenomenon, based on ever-changing conceptions, can have any value as an absolute standard of measurement Yet we have no better one. If we attempt to gauge the magnitude of any object, it must be by this unstable, imaginary unit of measure. But aside from the question of convenience, is there any better warrant for adopting the human body as our standard, than there is for selecting the atom, or some one of the heavenly bodies? Is it not within the bounds of reason to infer that beings may exist, to whom the compass of the universe lying within the limit of human vision, would appear as the point of a needle in size? and by analogy, is it not reasonable to assume that to their vision there would appear, in regions altogether unapproachable by human sight, bodies whose forms and peculiar characteristics are quite incomprehensible from our point of view?

Now let us turn again from considering the extent of the physical universe, to the question of number in relation to it. No doubt it sometimes seems to the prosaic, matter-of-fact materialist, that the number of suns and solar systems must be limited, because they are large enough to be readily appreciable by human vision, and, therefore, might be counted, could we only see them all. But as we have just intimated, an absolute standard of size is unthinkable. The atom seems small because we compare it with a body of the human type. According to the materialistic interpretation of things, everybody that lies within the range of our perceptive powers, may be resolved into lesser organic units which, too, possess values of only relative importance; and everybody, likewise, forms a part of some larger body or aggregation of bodies. Every body of which we have any accurate knowledge occupies a position in the midst of the scale in regard to size, being apparently neither the largest nor the smallest in existence. We might, under suitable conditions, be able to determine the exact number of units of a certain sort in any particular body we choose to designate; or we might at least form some kind of an estimate of their number; at all events we are sure that an exact number of such units does exist in that particular body. But it is only by taking some distinct type of unit as the basis of computation that we are able to declare the number of units in any body to be fixed. We must assume some definitely recognizable unit as our starting-point, before we can proceed to multiply it in greater forms, or divide it in lesser ones.

The basic unit of Being is the Self. Whenever we think of a finite self (i.e., a self which is a fragment or a fraction of something), we must look for the complement of its finitude or deficiency outside of it. According to the degree one supposes himself to be finite, in proportion to the insignificance of the fraction of Being he feels himself to represent, must its complement seem infinite and incomprehensible. If he conceives himself a human body, the number of atoms of which it is composed far exceeds his power of reckoning; but he then thinks of them as, in a sense, parts of himself. As his idea of self expands and becomes more inclusive—as the thought of human limitation and separateness vanishes, and the narrower thought of self is embraced in the unity of a larger conception, the significance of number, in its relation to Being, disappears. In the absolute sense there is only one self; but it admits of indefinite multiplication or division in thought, just like the abstract unit of mathematics. The Supreme Being alone can appreciate the full significance of the complete unity of life. To finite view, the world must appear in a manifold aspect (i. e., as composed of separate parts or selves). In the Infinite consciousness there can be no distinction of "I" and "thou," of self and not self; all is unity. Only as we descend into the finite realm of consciousness does unity begin to be multiplied and divided. Let the processes of multiplication and division of the Self in thought be once entered upon, and they may be extended indefinitely. But such numerical distinctions are not absolutely real. Neither number nor distance possesses for us any actual significance in the abstract. Only when associated with concrete things, objects, bodies, are they meaningful. Whenever we attempt to estimate dimensions appreciatively, we must assume at least two bodies, or else two positions supposed to lie within one body. An appreciable estimate of spatial relations, then, is possible because we conceive of matter as bodies. But as we have already indicated, both size and number have only apparent values in bodily distinctions; so that we have no absolute standard by which to estimate matter, either in regard to its dimensions or the number of units it expresses. Both considerations depend on the observer’s standpoint. The absolute significance of number is expressed in the unit—the basis of enumeration—and infinity. Two lines may diverge from a point, but that point may be conceived to exist anywhere in an ideal scale that extends indefinitely in both directions. So with the conception Matter. Material units seem to diverge in endless numbers from any appreciable point we choose to designate in a wholly arbitrary scale.

The value of any given number is derived from the basis of number, the unit. But with a variable unit, it can have no absolute value. Therefore we are forced to the conclusion that as there is no absolutely fixed unit of matter, there can be no absolutely fixed number of material bodies. If space, and the unit of matter, and the number of its units, are all purely ideal, the material universe we perceive outwardly, cannot be absolutely real, but is only apparent.

Consciousness is manifested in centers; it appears in that way outwardly. The efficiency of any center depends on the degree of concentration it represents. Every center, as a mentality, reflects the Self. Mentalities develop through concentration. The mental factor of Being—the mental phase of consciousness—gives rise to innumerable images of the Self of selves, just as mirrors may be made to reflect and re-reflect an object indefinitely, so that it shall appear in every conceivable position and guise. The position of each reflecting medium determines the form of the image projected by it. The way one's life represents the Self depends on his view-point. Every form we observe in our outer world is in some degree an image of the Self. Some of those images may be the vaguest conceivable representations of the original—indistinct, imperfect, distorted; but in the last analysis, all derive their existence from the Self of selves. As mentalities develop, the images of the Self they reflect, or project, change. Some mentalities reflect only remote reflections of the original.

Here, then, we obtain a hint as to the correct solution of the problem of the apparent existence of an indefinite number of material centers. We have already referred to the fact that the abstract unit of mathematics can be multiplied indefinitely and also that there is no absolutely fixed concrete unit of matter. Matter is not an entity; it is the outer correspondence, the symbolical expression of mind. Material centers are the outward manifestations of mentalities, mind-centers. But mind-centers are transient, variable, ever-changing; and as they change, the images they reflect change also. The basis of the formative principle manifested as Mind, is the Principle of principles— Spirit—the eternal, changeless, formless, unconditioned Essence of all that appears. The Spiritual Principle is the basis of all manifested life, just as the mathematical principle is the basis of every demonstration of figures.

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Frank H. Sprague

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