ABSOLUTE MONISM; OR, MIND IS MATTER AND MATTER IS MIND
[Lucifer, Vol. I, No. 5, January, 1888, pp. 408-411]
[There may be some doubt as to the authorship of this review of a work by Sundaram Iyer, F.T.S. (Madras, 1887), but its general trend and phraseology suggest that it was written by H.P.B., especially as the subject-matter is of a kind that was pointed out by her on many other occasions.]
Under the above title the author issues an address delivered at the last convention of the delegates of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. Metaphysicians, who note with interest all criticisms of Western psychology from the Oriental standpoint, will welcome the appearance of this extremely able and instructive brochure, which constitutes the first instalment of Absolute Monism. The object of the writer is to discuss the point whether an examination of all theories, as to relations of mind and body, “does not lead us to the Unistic theory that Mind is Matter, and Matter is Mind.” He endeavours to merge the apparent dualism of subject and object into a fundamental unity:—
Is mind a product of organized matter? No for organized matter is only a combination of material particles, as is unorganized matter. How is it, then, that there is the manifestation of Mind in the one case, and not in the other? . . . . . . Can subjective facts ever emerge out of a group of molecules? Never; as many times never as there are molecules in the group. And why? Because Mind cannot issue from No Mind. (p. 13.)
The line of argument adopted versus Materialism—the doctrine that mental facts are the resultant of chemical changes in the brain; force and matter being the only Ultimates of Existence—is unquestionably forcible. Mind can never be resolved into a “by-product” of brain activity, for several valid reasons. In the first place, in its aspect of thought, it exhibits concentration on an end, intelligence and interest in the subject under consideration, all of which characteristics, according to Tyndall and Du Bois-Reymond, are necessarily absent from those remarshallings of atoms and molecules which are declared to “cerebrate out” mental phenomena! In the second place, the gulf between consciousness and molecular change has never been bridged; an admission to which the leading physicists and physiologists of the day lend all the weight of their authority. The terms “consciousness” and “matter” are expressive of things so utterly contrasted, that all attempts to deduce the former from the latter have met with signal discredit. Nevertheless, materialists assume the contrary, whenever the necessities of their philosophy demand it. Hence, we find men, like Büchner, admitting in one place that “in the relation of soul and brain, phenomena occur which cannot be explained by . . . . . matter and force,” and elsewhere resolving mind into the “activity of the tissues of the brain,” “a mode of motion”—contradictions, the flagrancy of which is enhanced by the fact that the same author invests the physical automaton Man with a power to control his actions! Lastly, the degradation of consciousness into “brain function” by constituting philosophers, theologians, scientists, and all alike “conscious automata”—(machines whose thoughts are determined for, not by their conscious Egos)—knocks away the basis of argument. The only resource becomes universal scepticism; a denial of the possibility of attaining truth. Can impartiality, correct thinking and agreement, be expected on the part of controversialists who form part of a comedy of Automata?
If mind is not inherent in matter, it cannot be evolved by mere nervous complexity. The combination of two
chemical elements cannot result in a compound in which something more than the constituent factors are present. It is sometimes urged that, since the properties of substances are often altogether changed in the course of chemical combinations—new ones arising with the temporary lapse of the old—consciousness may be explained as a “peculiar property” of matter under some of its conditions. Mr. Sundaram Iyer meets this objection ably. “Aquosity,” it is said, is a property of oxygen and hydrogen in combination, though not in isolation. To this he answers, “chemical properties are either purely subjective facts or objective-subjective ones” (p. 57). They exist only in the consciousness of the percipient, and represent no external and independent reality. Psychologists of the type of Huxley would do well to recall this fact, apart from the considerations springing from other data.
Our author is loud in his praises of Panpsychism, that phase of pantheism which regards all matter as saturated with a potential psyche. He speaks of the “catholicity, sublimity and beauty . . . not to say the philosophy, and logic, and truthfulness of this creed of thought.” It is, however, clear that some of the authorities he cites in support of this view, more especially Clifford, Tyndall, and Ueberweg, represent a phase of thought which is too materialistic to do justice to an elevated pantheistic concept. Clifford’s conscious mind-stuff sublimated materialism, and Ueberweg speaks of those “sensations” present in “inanimate” objects which are “concentrated” in the human brain, as if they represented so many substances to be weighed in scales. Instructive and thoughtful as is the discussion of this subject (pp. 32-63), its value would have been increased by a survey of the pantheistic schools of German speculation, so many of whose conclusions are absolutely at one with esoteric views as to the Logos and the metaphysics of consciousness.
After discussing the primary and secondary (so-called) qualities of matter as tabulated by Mill, Hamilton and others, Mr. Sundaram Iyer passes on the question: “What is force?”
Force is matter . . . . it may be related to matter in . . . . four ways:—firstly, it may be an extraneous power to matter, acting upon it from without; secondly, it may be an inherent power in matter, influencing it from within, but yet distinct from the substance of matter; thirdly, it may be an innate power in matter, influencing it from within, and not distinct from the substance of matter; or fourthly, it may be a function of the substance of matter.” (pp. 76-7.)
After an interesting criticism of current theories, he concludes that:—
Function is simply the phenomenal effect of the latent cause, namely force, but never force itself. This potential existence, which is in matter, is a physical existence. If not, it cannot, as shown before, produce any impression whatsoever upon or in the substance of matter.
Matter is force and force is matter. It is not quite evident, however, whether this position is strictly reconcilable with the remark that “the primary qualities of matter are all simplifiable into . . . extension and (its) motion (actual or possible).”
If force is a physical existence, and the real substance of matter at the same time, we get back no further into the mystery of what things-in-themselves really are. Physical existence remains the reality behind physical existence and the realization of matter and force, as aspects only of one basis, in no way simplifies the crux.
It is not clear, moreover, what is the exact meaning the author intends by the use of the word “force.” Is it motion—molar or molecular—or the unknown cause of motion? According to Professor Huxley, “force” is merely an expression used to denote the cause of motion, whatever that may be. We only know this cause in its aspect of motion, and cannot penetrate behind the veil in order to grasp the Noumenon of which motion is the phenomenal effect. The necessity, therefore, of recognising the fact that motion is all that falls within the cognizance of sense, forbids the (profane) scientist to use the term “force” as representative of anything but an abstraction. The question is complicated by the consideration that the substantiality of various so-called “forces” appears most probable, and that this substantiality becomes
objectively real to sense, only on a plane beyond this—the domain of matter in its order of physical differentiations.
The materialistic doctrine that force merely = a motion of matter, is contradicted by the fact that, as shown by Mill, motion can be temporarily neutralized. Lift a heavy weight on to a shelf and the mechanical energy expended in the act is latent in the potentiality of the weight to fall to the ground again. There is no immediate equivalent, as the attraction of the earth for the object remains the same (the now greater distance tending to diminish the amount, though in a very minute degree).
It may be further noted that, granting Mr. Sundaram Iyer’s definition of matter as “extension pure and simple,” to be correct (p. 112), it is difficult to understand how he predicates this barren content as endowed with motion (p. 83). What moves?
The rest of the brochure is taken up with some excellent criticism of current conceptions of atoms, space and heterogenealism (a creed now so sorely wounded by Mr. Crooke’s “Protyle”). Dealing with one of the late Mr. G. H. Lewes’ utterances, the author remarks with great truth: “By some mysterious law of occurrence the self-contradictions of the bulk of the erudite and enlightened are in point of gravity, palpableness, and number in direct proportion to their erudition and enlightenment.” With how many contrasted dicta from the pages of our Büchners, Spencers, Bains etc., etc., could this conclusion be supported.
One word before we close. Is the title of the work well chosen? It appears to us the least satisfactory sentence which has been traced by the writer’s pen. The definition of “mind as matter and matter as mind” not only offers no solution of the great psychological problem discussed, but does injustice to the contents of the work itself.
In the process of definition we “assemble representative examples of the phenomena,” under investigation and “our work lies in generalizing these, in detecting community in the midst of difference.” Now, there is no community whatever between mental and material facts. For as Professor Bain writes:
Extension is but the first of a long series of properties all present in matter, all absent in mind. . . . Our mental experience, our feelings and thoughts, have no extension, no place, no form * or outline, or mechanical division of parts; and we are incapable of attending to anything mental until we shut off the view of all that.†
The phenomenal contrast of mind and matter is not only at the root of our present constitution but an essential of our terrestrial consciousness. Duality is illusion in the ultimate analysis; but within the limits of a Universe-cycle or Great Manvantara it holds true. The two bases of manifested Being—the Logos (spirit) and Mulaprakriti (Matter, or rather its Noumenon), are unified in the absolute reality, but in the Manvantaric Maya, under space and time conditions, they are contrasted though mutually interdependent aspects of the ONE CAUSE.
* Nevertheless objectively viewed thoughts are actual entities to the occultist.
† Mind end Body, pp. 125 and 135.