Universal Brotherhood – November 1897

MIND AND EGO — H. A. W. Coryn

Perhaps it may not be many years now before the idea of a Self in nature begins to gain a hold in the minds of men, but that time is certainly not yet. I want, however, to deal with some points in the evolution of man with reference to that view. Without it, the facts of nature may easily seem to suggest a universal automatism, at any rate up to man and including man so far as a large part of his consciousness is concerned. But with it, many facts become intelligible, and we can conceive that what is automatism for an unselfconscious individual is an expression of the will of that great Life which actuates (in entering and passing out of) the individual; and also that to acquire Egoism, to become self-aware, is to become self-directive, to become a spark of self-knowing will, free as the whole.

When the amoeba, a protoplasmic speck of ponds, is touched by a particle of food, it feels the touch, and answers by a movement that enfolds the particle into its centre. This is scientifically called a "reflex action," a term covertly but not overtly implying that it is unattended with consciousness; nevertheless when it has become much more complex, it is regarded as the objective basis of conscious mind, information not being forthcoming as to the date of the accession of consciousness. Similarly the amoeba feels the light and warmth when the sun shines, moving then more actively. We may suppose that in its dim way it has a consciousness like our own of light and warmth, and of the need for and presence of food. As we pass higher up the animal scale, this dim feeling becomes brighter and approaches mentality. The feeling and therefore the reaction differ according to whether the touching particle is or is not food. Here is the germ of reason. The creature begins to have memory of the kind of touch that a particle of food inflicts. It compares this memory of a feeling with the present feeling of being touched, deciding that as they are not alike the present touch is from something that is not food and should be left alone. The reaction of an amoeba to any touch is comparable to the crystallizing reaction of a supersaturated solution of a salt on being touched, but no such solution could be so educated as to learn to crystallize when touched by a flaxen thread and not to do so when touched by a silken. The protoplasmic particle of which we are speaking has learned to reason. Reasoning is, radically, the comparison of two sensations. It is the more or less immediate deciding that something we now see or cognize or have in memory is like or unlike something also present or in memory. It seems to be the coexistence of three states of consciousness, and to set at naught the unproved dictum that only one state can exist at one time. But there seems no more reason for asserting that Egoism is necessary to the more complex process than that it is necessary to the simple process of cognition. But whereas we can conceive of a physical basis to a sensation and its resulting reflex action, and even to a memory of a sensation, we can conceive of no physical basis to the comparing process. The bare juxtaposition of two sensations, one or both memorized, is conceivable as having a physical basis; the act of comparison is a process only of consciousness, not necessarily Egoistic. An Ego is a consciousness that is aware of itself, and that subhuman consciousness that can compare two states of itself in a third state need not have yet evolved the power of self-recognition. In what way should we conceive the physical basis of reasoning to exist? In a lowly organized life, every sensation probably gives immediate use to a movement. The end of a spider's leg touches a hot needle. The nerve-wave goes up the leg to the ganglia that constitutes his brain, a sort of telegraph station, and is thence reflected off down other nerves to the appropriate muscles whose contractions move the leg. All this could conceivably be imitated by a machine so constructed that a hot touch to one of its wire legs would rise as a heat-wave to a central station within and be there changed into an equivalent quantity of electricity or other force made to operate in moving the machine away by means of the necessary mechanical apparatus. This is already the feat of a locomotive engine, which moves upon contact with a sufficient amount of heat. Is the spider then a machine? In the locomotive a certain quantity of heat force, represented in the spider by the wave of nerve-sensation from the hot needle which he touches, becomes changed within the engine into an equivalent quantity of mechanical force which moves the engine, represented in the spider by the descending nerve current which moves his muscles. It seems true then that the spider is a machine, and that what he does can be computed and described in mechanical phrases. If that be so, it would not be correct to speak of him as having self-will or freewill; through him shines the will of nature, the forces of nature flow through him, but he does not as a unit exercise upon those forces any directive power, he does not seize as it were a portion of the will of nature and make it his own free-will. And similarly it may be true that the amount of force a man takes in, in his life, in the form of food and such other nature-energies as light, heat, etc., are equal to those he puts forth as action while life remains to him. The spider is therefore a machine, and yet also he is something more. In our supposed machine the ascending current of heat is, at the centre, at once transformed into the descending electric current.

Both heat and electricity are motion of matter, like all manifested force. But in the spider, the current that ascends to his brain along the nerves of the leg does not at once descend from the brain along the nerves that go to the leg. It halts a minute in that little brain before it is transformed into the equal amount of force or motion which manifests as the descending nerve-current. We must suppose a moment in which this force, having reached the brain, is no longer motion in matter, and is become motion in consciousness, and this transforming motion in consciousness transforms or modifies the consciousness in the way that we call cognition or sensation. It is motion on a plane of the spider's being that is above his physical body, the movement of consciousness from state to state, for motion is the root of real being. Then retransformed, it again becomes physical motion in the brain and so down the nerves to the muscles. The spider therefore appears to differ from the machine, in that, half-way along the physical circuit, physical motion is temporarily transformed into, and then back from, motion of consciousness. The vague feeling of materialism with which this statement inspires us is due to the fact that we figure to ourselves the whole process in terms of sensuous consciousness, and it would disappear if we learned to represent it in terms of immediate subjectivity. Thus conceived, all motion would be primarily regarded as motion in consciousness (of the world-self) reflected into our objective consciousness if of the objective planes, and motion in itself would be known as the unmanifested deity when considered apart from the thing moved. It seems, therefore an error to depict an interval of time (and even of space) as occurring in the transit from the platform of bodily matter to that of consciousness. The real philosophies would begin their conception of the universe above, and take it downward, having thus no difficulty in conceiving of continuous conscious life from top to bottom; the materialist begins from below, and groping in the objective with a consciousness trained only to deal with that, conceives of unconscious matter from bottom to top. Describing therefore our spider in the terms of the latter, but with an addition, we shall say that the spider is a machine, though part of the machine is conscious, and that so far as his little self is concerned he has no free will, being grasped body and soul by the will of nature. The consciousness of animals forms one of the necessitated links (to speak in terms of time) in physical chains of forces. There is no free-will. A physiological wave of nerve-motion rises along the nerves of his limbs or of the senses, reaches and becomes motion in his cerebral particles, "ascends" further and becomes that motion in his consciousness that is thought, memory, sensation, emotion, "then" is reconverted into nerve motion and lastly muscular motion. Of course at various steps in its progress it may unlock comparatively latent motion previously stored up. But (at any rate up to the mammalia) there may be no will so far as the animal is individually concerned; the force flows of itself; by it he is made to feel and think; by it he moves. There may be no more will than in the terminal clock-face of an electric wire. Suppose that this clock-face had a consciousness and that the current ran up into this before returning to affect the needle, and you have an animal. It takes equal force to move the needle from the perpendicular to either side, and if you imagine that the consciousness of the plate, having absorbed the current for a moment could determine to which direction the emergent current should move the needle, you would have man, the willer; for man can direct the mode or direction of the current as it emerges from his consciousness to his brain, causing it to traverse one or another channel and effect one or another motion. This, without creating any new force; and while it is within his consciousness, he can direct it this way or that, resulting in this or that train of thought or feeling, thus deflecting or transmuting if he will an animal emotion into a better.

It would seem then that the process of pure reasoning is a reflex act or set of acts, not requiring the cooperation of the Ego. It is a chain whose unvarying links are comparable to the chain of physical phenomena. Though the data with which it is occupied may be given from the noetic consciousness, it is in no way noetic in essence; it is essentially determined and involuntary, and man, if he had never received any noetic or Egoistic illumination, might nevertheless have become as perfect a reasoner as he is now. The phantom "charged with animal consciousness of a superior kind" of which man once consisted, according to the Secret Doctrine, was capable by virtue of that consciousness alone (a determined, reflex, sensuous consciousness) of evolving the power of perfect reasoning, though the data upon which all reasoning would then have been founded would have come only from the psychic, sensuous, cognitions. These would have led only to a line of reasoned entire selfishness of action, for a rudimentary sensation with a resulting determined reflex is on its conscious side the rudiment of an act of reasoning. Neither free will nor Ego has any essential relation to it. If consciousness is furnished with the data that two sides of a certain triangle are equal, it is a necessitated chain of reasoning that delivers the conclusion that the angles at the base are also equal. When the amoeba has a touch from a speck of food and at once catches hold of it, there is a sensation and an elementary act of reasoning, like that of the spider with the hot needle, like that of the man who sees a cab coming rapidly upon him down the street, like that of the astronomer who predicts an eclipse. This is an ascending scale, no freewill is involved, self-consciousness is not necessary though consciousness is. All reasoning is a necessitated chain, of which each link must follow the preceding, the links being parts of a complicated machine, the psychic mind. Certain categories, and the forms of space and time, involved in the process, belong to the essence of the mind in nature, and are more or less active forms in the essence of every conscious unit that differentiates itself out of nature. Animals reason, they have the psychic mind, and in a degree the reasoning consciousness, but the animal has not yet got to the thought of itself as an Ego, and until that stage is reached there is no will. Therefore the animal is a psychic machine, bound to necessity, a thinking automaton, an expression of the will for him of nature, part of a pattern, not a pattern for himself. He is as man was in early history, bound to nature, part of nature, of the same stuff as nature, all in the chain of matter-consciousness of natural events, in the flow of automatic natural forces.

According to the Secret Doctrine the flood of astral lunar monads arrived upon this chain of worlds for their cycles thereon. It may be roughly said that they had two planes of consciousness, quite unconnected. They were lives in the ocean of Life, and as composing that Life they had one common divine consciousness. They had also on a very low plane an individualized consciousness. They were globules of astral nature, and nature was as etherial as they. Therefore the nature-forces flowed into and out of them, as water flows through a floating tree-trunk, and they had neither will nor Ego. These forces flowed from nature into their consciousness, becoming therein sensation; then out again into nature as the motions of their forms. Consciousness was one of the links of transit, and originated none of it. They were germs of psychic mind, astral germs, for the psychic mind (now kama rupa) is on its material side an astral nucleus of substance. It is so now, and astral clairvoyance is simply the conscious possession and use of that community of substance of the psychic substance and the astral light. This psychic stuff of ours on the planes of the astral light is our reasoning mind, for we saw that sensation is the germ of and begets reasoning. And sensation starts, therefore, on the astral plane and is of the astral, not physical body. We, as Egos, are unconscious of physical sensation till from the physical it has mounted to the place where we sit, namely, the astral sheaths. If it does not reach that, we remain unconscious of it, though the body may give forth reflex action, as where the spinal cord is injured at the neck, for example. A touch on the soles of the feet may then produce a kick of which the patient may know nothing, though his spinal cord does. The primordial astral lunar germs are therefore what are now our minds, psychic, astral, reasoning. Only there is now present therein what was not there at first, namely, the consciousness of Ego, and the rudiment of a noetic element. This noetic ray renders memory an active power. Hence the psychic sensations, memorized as a long train, produce that evolved Egoism in the psychic nature that is the reflection of the noetic Ego and constitutes the personal man. The psychic germ is an expression of the will of nature; and that will is expressed in the psychic consciousness as cognition and as desire, a desire leading to outward action as the means of development of points of contact between nature and itself. This desire is the parent of the organs of sense and of action. But, not realizing itself as a self, not therefore being an Ego, it cannot will, but is willed by nature.

We are come upon the old question of Freewill in man. Will, as distinct from desire, is of the Ego, and differs in that from desire. For desire is of the kamic, psychic nature, essentially unconnected with self-knowledge; will is of the noetic, and is in proportion to the degree of self-consciousness. The confusion of the question seems to be due to defective definition of freewill. There is no external compulsion needed to make a rocket ascend. To ascend when lit is the realization of its own nature, and it does not follow because we know the nature and can predict the ascent that we compel the ascent. We avail ourselves of the nature that we know to exist. There is nothing external to ourselves that can prevent us realizing our own nature once we become conscious of it. Those who doubt freewill do so because they do not understand the meaning of the word. Freewill is the necessity of realizing our nature; it accompanies consciousness of that nature, or self-consciousness; it is that self-consciousness, and from it flows action. What we are within, we act outwardly; if we know what we are within, the acts are voluntary. They are not necessitated by our nature, for we cannot necessitate ourselves. Self-consciousness and freewill are identical. But, it may be said, then the animal has freewill, for in every outward act it out-realizes its own inward animal nature; the rocket has freewill, for in its act, ascension, it realizes its internal potency. But if, as I am maintaining, the animal is no less an automaton than a rocket and equally devoid of self-awareness, only differing therefrom in being a conscious automaton, it is not the animal who by self-directed energy realizes himself, but the world-life which through him realizes itself to the extent of animalism. The world-soul is the life of nature, and through the ascending kingdoms of nature out-realizes more and more of its latent qualities, which are infinite. In the animal it realizes its aspect as animal consciousness. But the animal, like the early human psychic germ, is only a part of the web of nature, and whatever forces of nature flow about the strands of the web flow through the animal and are not directed by him. But in man as he is now, the automatically acting consciousness of the animal has begun to reach the conception of itself as an Ego, and forthwith the Ego proceeds to direct his own operations. This has only begun, for ordinarily we are acted through by desire. The Ego has begun to be an adult, and the nature-forces still flow through it, awaking cognition, desire, and conscious reflex-response; these we are beginning to direct, so that when they emerge from us they express our internal condition rather than their own nature-quality. The world-life has the will to realize itself, but when it has got so far as to realize itself in the Egos of men, those Egos forthwith take upon themselves the future work. The one life does not impose anything upon them, for they are it, each an aspect, and in all they do they are only carrying out their nature. Reasoning would never give nor reveal self-consciousness; it is only the product of memorized sensations, fitted upon a framework. For the attainment by yoga of full self-consciousness, psychic sensation and reasoning must both be suspended: "it is the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle."

Now come up two questions, (1) Why does the "Psychologist" deny the freedom of the will? (2) why the scientist?

(1) The Psychologist denies it, when he does so, because he fails to define the phrase clearly to himself. If by freedom of the will is meant freedom from all motives, aims, ends, and from the very nature of the Ego, then the will is not free, for freedom is in this sense the same thing as hopeless idiocy. Freedom of will is freedom to act out our nature, and to that there can be no obstacle. If obstacles exist they would be physical, psychic, or external proper. Mere physical inhibition is no obstacle, for if an act of murder be fully willed and imagined, in that imagination the act is as fully done and the murderous nature as fully realized as in a physical act. As to psychic; the evolved and reflected Egoism in the human personal or psychic nature, assimilates and acts along the sensuous nature whilst it will, whilst it regards that as its nature. For so long as it is in that consciousness, that is its nature, when it has become other, it conceives of itself as other, and acts accordingly. That it has at first a wrong knowledge or conception of itself is due to no external power, but to ignorance which though an active power is not an opposed force but part of the nature. An external power proper would be an external spiritual, acting hypnotically upon the essentially spiritual Ego, and these do not exist. The actions of Egos are the outrealizations of their own natures, and if we say that they are impelled by lusts or by either of the "three qualities," we mean that those "qualities" are part of their nature from which they have not yet disentangled themselves, or which they have not yet extruded, and that their actions in accordance therewith are voluntary outrealizations. If we yield to a lust, we go with it at the very time. But afterwards it seems to us that we were impelled, though at the time it was part of our nature voluntarily outrealizing itself. Neither can we say that in good acts the Divine Soul of the world acts in us, for we are that Soul which evolves not in or through us, but as us. Wherefore all souls realize themselves. There is no external compelling law; whence it follows that they act freely, according to a primordial act of will which at the dawn of life before they individualized they commonly arrived at, an act of self-realizing will which operates undiminished through the whole drama, and a part of which is the production outwards of those "qualities" by which thereafter they think themselves swayed. But if we take the whole play of the "qualities" throughout the manvantara as the outrealization of the Logos, then they are the outrealization also of ourselves who make up the Logos, and they cease to act upon him who has freed himself, because to free oneself means to cease to produce them, and for him who does not from moment to moment produce them they do not exist.

(2) Why does the scientist deny free will? On more intelligible grounds. Strike a stretched wire, and you expend a certain amount of force. It is transformed in the wire into heat and vibration; from that heat and vibration it could theoretically be obtained again, undiminished, the same as you had put forth in the striking. Hold the middle of the wire at the extreme point of a vibration, and it is in a condition of rest, of stored force, and that stored force it will give up the moment you release it. Its energy is potential. The brain cells are in this same state, ready to give up energy when released. The sight of a cab coming quickly down the street liberates some of this energy and enables you to move your muscles in getting out of the way. So the theory of science is that the body and brain represent a mass of stored force. This force is added to by all the energies from food, etc., that go in to it and is represented by unstable molecular equilibrium; the molecules, in returning to equilibrium like the vibrating string, liberate this energy again as motion, motion molecular or heat, electricity, or motion as a whole or of limbs. And this motion is liberated along the easiest path. The whole thing is a complicated mechanism and behaves mechanically. Consciousness observes, thinks, it acts, but really has no active share anywhere. Is this so? Cannot motion in molecules be transformed into motion in consciousness, which is thought, held there, and then retransformed into outgoing motion in molecules? Motion is Life; matter is objectivized consciousness, and is neither known nor knowable in any other way than in terms of consciousness. So there is no real gap jumped when in the recesses of brain the motion of molecules and cells retires deeper and becomes motion of conciousness, sensation, thought; nor when conversely this moving soul discharges its movement downward into the cell and thence perhaps outward to a limb. Therefore the mechanical hypothesis will never be established, even could it be proved that the whole of the force that went to make up a body and was throughout life stored therein exactly equalled the force expended throughout life and in the ultimate dissolution. The motion of cells is transformed into motion of consciousness or sensation; it then passes to the Ego, who directs along which of many paths it shall return. From the Ego it redescends to the plane of sensation or our terrestrial material consciousness. On this plane it becomes a sort of mental forepicture or anticipatory feeling of the intended act. Then it finally descends to the body molecules, nerves and muscles, and the act is carried out. Of this series science only studies the first and last term, and often assumes that the first passes straight and unvolitioned into the last. But every man really knows in himself of all the other steps.

On the receptive sense-organ falls the picture, say of a coming cab. It becomes a sensation, is seen by the Ego, and he directs that the body get out of the way. Ordinarily the purely physical intelligence would be equal to this judgment and act, but the Ego is competent to direct as he wills, and if he willed suicide, for example, he could direct that the body should go further out into the exact track of the cab.

As there is but one Life in the Universe on many planes, and as Ego is that Life existing in recognition of itself, or in self-consciousness, so is this directive and selective power possible, and will is shown in self-manifestation; free because self-determined.

Universal Brotherhood