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The Normal and the Supernormal

The man of the Stone Age—whose body was scantily protected from the elements by rude skins, whose habitation was the natural cavern of the earth, whose handicraft rose no higher than the chipping of flint stones for weapons, whose principal pastime was the fierce chase of the wild boar, and whose great peril was the ravage of the cave-bear and lion and the depredations of his benighted brother—was perfectly “normal” for his time. If we imagine a conclave of these poor souls, with a language little more comprehensive than the immediate physical needs demanded, discussing the possibilities of the race for expressing a higher ideal, we may readily conclude that, though there might have been vague longings rudely expressed, occasional gleams of a seemingly wild hope that there might be a condition in which men would live in huts constructed where the wish should determine; that there could be a happy respite from strife sufficient to enable the cultivation of the ground around the hut; that their mysterious fire would fuse the intractable iron and they would replace their good stone implements by others of marvelous strength; and that their women should abandon their bone ornaments for others of the shining metal—such a dream of the wild fancy was promptly discouraged by the majority expression as being too remote a digression from the “normal” man and his “normal” life.

Ages after, the lake-dwellers of Switzerland—with habitations constructed upon piles driven into the lake bottoms and surrounded by the protecting expanse of blue waters, in which habitations their families lay down to sleep with the assurance of some safety, and with whom the art of metal-working had dawned—had realized the cave-dwellers’ Utopian dream, and, although still fiercely struggling with Nature and man, were daring to dream of other Utopias yet to come. But those among them who looked forward to such hopeful times were defiantly disregarding the normal standard of progress then recognized. The normal man, the average attainment, the conventional type of hunter and marauder, stood as the last word for human progress—as the average ideal of the race, beyond and above which it must have seemed folly to expect to attain.

Succeeding centuries brought slow but inevitable change, and the normal man of early historic periods, though rude and barbaric compared with us, was beyond the dream of the lake-dwellers; and the normal man and normal life of our own time, with its great exemption from peril, its liberty of individual action, its extensive grasp and development of natural resources, and the revolutionary advance of ethics and general knowledge, could hardly have been conceived by the normal man of those times as attainable. Every clime and age has had its norm, its average measure of attainment—the supposed limit of realization; but the human soul knows no such limit and pushes on, conceiving higher ideals and evolving up to them.

It is the personal man, that segment of the greater self which is ever engaged in the effort of adjusting itself to the imperative now, which insists upon this norm. When the same personal man feels the impulses from his subliminal self he begins to suspect that his normal attainment is not the last word; that his possibilities have not been exhausted; that other and grander chapters will be added to the volume written by evolution. This limitation of the normal ideal affects every kind of life expression. In civics it is the blind adhesion to the average conception of social relations; in society it is slavery to conventionalism; in religion it is worship of creed; in science it is reverence for accepted opinion. In all it is the adhesion to the habitual and accepted standard of attainment and thought, and a desire to reduce to it and confine within its limitations all other effort and expression.

It was entirely normal before the time of Copernicus to believe in the geocentric system, and quite abnormal to entertain the possibility of the heliocentric; it was also dangerous. It has been, and outside of our own country it probably still is, quite normal to believe in the divine right of one man to rule over others. It is still normal to believe that customs and privileges acquired through centuries of violence and usurpation are “vested rights.” It is still normal to think it is right to abdicate one’s own duty to think, and to decide for himself all questions, to some other self-ordained or custom-appointed individual. To-day it is normal do believe that there is no higher attainable expression of life than the average normality comprehended in money-getting and energy-spending strife; that no avenues of knowledge exist save the channels of the five senses; and that no other states of consciousness are knowable except those associated with the struggle for existence.

That these normal ideals will all be transformed into other and higher ones we must inevitably conclude. With those in the advance of progress they have long ceased to be their ideals of normality; but the higher and truer conceptions must be classed with the supernormal until the average attainment and thought shall have reached them.

Let us take a simple example to illustrate how a normal state of consciousness, though one that at present seems inevitable from our experience, may be nevertheless wholly false to ; truth. We apparently see the sun rise: yet we do not. We think of physical things as more or less solid: they are not. We may think their particles touch one another: they do not. We think of the so-called solid wall as impermeable: it is a shadowy veil through which the subtle forces and states of matter pass without obstruction; the atoms that compose it are far apart. We think there is perfect separateness in the universe: there is not; every atom acts and reacts upon others. We think that each mind is independent: it is not; the thoughts of one in some degree impinge upon the others. Thus we see how our dominant state may be limited by experience and the imperfect deductions drawn from it. With such misunderstandings and misinterpretations we have evolved states of consciousness that are not related to truth in all respects. They serve a purpose; but so long as we know nothing else we are out of harmony with truth. As we know that the untruth has no existence in fact, but only lives in the imagination, it can never have any permanency or element of immortality. So all such states evolved from and related to the non-existent, the unreal, must sooner or later pass away; for they correspond with nothing but a hallucination.

It necessarily follows that if we would rise higher in the scale of being we must seek consciously to relate ourselves or to come into correspondence with the true in every manifestation beneficent for us, upon every plane of existence; in other words, more perfectly to embody the cosmic mind and abide in its wisdom. To do this we must first be willing to abandon the untrue, though “normal,” however dearly we have cherished it. And, speaking particularly of the realm of philosophy, ethics, and religion, I would say that all, irrespective of their normality, should be cited to appear before the bar of the higher self and justify their claim to continuance. Thus as the greater conformity to truth is attained the mind continually leaves the normal behind in discarded beliefs and relinquished ideals, and finds the way to progress through the supernormal.

But while many are willing to admit the propriety of advance along the line of changes in beliefs and ideals, they are quite skeptical as to the possibility of experiences commonly classed as “psychic” rightly becoming a part of our normal experience and life. I have spoken generally of these experiences as the manifestation of the nature and faculties of the subliminal consciousness. A man’s opinion is weighty only so far as he has the opportunity to know, the wisdom to judge, and the impartiality to truth to declare. It is encouraging to find the theory herein held ably supported by men who at the same time are eminent in the field of science and psychical investigation. Says Sir William Crookes: “Whilst it is clear that our knowledge of subconscious mentation is still to be developed, we must beware of rashly assuming that all variations from the normal waking condition are necessarily morbid. The human race has reached no fixed or changeless ideal; in every direction there is evolution as well as disintegration.”

The fact that, before psychic phenomena in healthy and normal people began to be scientifically observed and studied, such phenomena were conspicuously noted in subjects in admittedly abnormal conditions (malades) strengthened the conclusion that the phenomena themselves were abnormal. Professor F. W. H. Myers says that “these are not pathological phenomena, but pathological revelations of normal phenomena, which is a very different thing.”

Viewed from the standpoint of psychic science, the normal man is limited to the primary self, the objective consciousness; and the supernormal is the modification of that by the functions of the secondary self—of subliminal consciousness. It is evident, however, that the supernormal at one time may become the normal at another. That the ordinary man, the primary personality, should be the ultimate expression, the limit of possibility, is wholly irreconcilable with the facts of this field of science. Says Professor Myers: “It may be that the very formation in us of anything so narrow and confined as what we know as personality is in itself a limitation of our essential being—a mere mode of concentration in order to meet the perils of environment.” This is what we would expect, a priori, from the theory of psychical evolution. There could have been no unfoldment in progressive form without first the establishment of a stable relationship with the environment, and this is effected by the normal self. That evolution beyond that point has occurred proves the reserved potentialities behind the personal self and justifies the conclusion that the ego possesses the same possibilities for the future. Upon this point, Professor Myers says:

“Since the era of my protozoic ancestors the germ which is now human has shown absolutely unpredictable potentialities. Whatever be the part which we assign to external influence in its evolution, the fact remains that the germ possessed the power of responding in an indefinite number of ways to an indefinite number of stimuli. It was only the accident of its exposure to certain stimuli and not to others which has made it what it now is. And, having shown itself so far modifiable as to acquire these highly specialized senses which I possess, it is doubtless still modifiable in directions as unthinkable to me as my eyesight would have been unthinkable to the oyster. Nor can we limit the rate of change, which so far as cerebral modifications are concerned may probably be increasingly rapid, as it has an increasingly complex material to work upon.”

Rather than attribute the present state of development to accident of exposure to certain stimuli, I would prefer to assign it most largely to the special power and purpose of responding to stimuli, though accidentally experienced. Now, of this normal man Professor Myers says: “So long as we are dealing with mankind from a rough point of view—as, for instance, in therapeutics—we may without serious error treat the ordinary state of health and intelligence as a type to which aberrant specimens ought to be recalled. But, if we wish to engage in a more original, more philosophic discussion of man’s personality, we have no longer the right to assume that our common empirical standard gives any true measurement of the potentialities of man.” Again, if we agree that the normal man is a limitation of the essential being, and is “a mere mode of concentration in order to meet the perils of environment,” this cannot be the end aimed at; there must be some other purpose conserved by this meeting and adjustment between the ego and environment. That purpose is amply evidenced and fulfilled (at least for the immediate present) by the expression of the higher thought and faculties, which are not such as natural selection could evolve, and the emergence of the subliminal qualities and their synchronizing with the normal self.

Says Dr. Max Dessoir: “It is only when Imagination is comprehended as a function of the secondary self, and Inspiration and change of personality are understood as projections from within outward, with more or less sensory clothing—manifestations, in short, of that externalizing process which is always at work within us: it is only then, I say, that the creative imagination of the artist is understood and traced to its root.” These expressions of the higher self—the conceptions of the ideal, imagination, creative faculty, origination and invention, inspiration and genius—effect the divergence from the normal life, and class the man in the supernormal.

In view of all this, why should one hesitate to class the psychic faculties among the attainments that we will and should realize? Speaking of a class of these, Professor Myers’s statement applies to all as well: “Now, I say that in so far as any one possesses a power of this sort, and can acquire cognizance, either by artifice or by some spontaneous uprush, of the impressions stored and the operations proceeding in strata deeper than his primary consciousness, to that extent is he superior and not inferior to ordinary humanity; more ‘normal’ than the average man—if any norm there be—because he is more perfectly utilizing the possibilities of his being.” And if it be contended that the normal attainment and the normal man are more in harmony with the End of Life, and therefore more desirable than the supernormal, I would quote the same writer, upon the extreme contention for genius and ecstasy, thus: “Now, if Genius and Ectasy belong to the realm of the subconscious, then I say that you must first tell me what is Reality, and what is the End of Life, before we decide whether Genius and Ecstasy are out of harmony with these. What is undoubtedly true is that our waking, emergent personality is that which is best suited to carry on the struggle for existence. Itself, as I believe, the result of natural selection, it inevitably represents that aspect of our being which can best help us to overrun the earth. More than this we cannot say.”

Bearing upon both the origin and the destiny of this mysterious and marvelous being as a whole, and as shedding further light upon the thesis herein attempted, I close the quotations with one from the same writer and thinker: “But the question of origin will still remain; and it is not really a hypothesis wider than another if we suppose it possible that that portion of the cosmic energy which operates through the organism of each one of us was in some sense individualized before its descent into generation, and pours the potentialities of larger being into the earthen vessels which it fills and overflows.”

Therefore, if we conceive purposes of life more profound than are included in the normal thought; if we believe the potentialities of that larger being are capable of wiser and truer expression than it admits; if our ideals, with which our acts and thoughts shall seek similitude, transcend it; if we seek means of attaining them which are unthought of by it; if we catch glimpses of truths outside its pale, and believe in the attainment of states of consciousness other than those associated with the struggle for existence—we may be assured that such a supernormal state of being is logical in view of the past history of man, is in harmony with the inherent laws of evolution, and creates at least the primary conditions necessary to the individual realization of those hopes; also, that conscious recognition of and cooperation with the law will effect that consummation vastly sooner than ignorance and apathy left to the slow processes of natural selection.

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Joseph Stewart, LL. M.

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