Saints and Revolutionaries, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 5

Mainly Speculation

AT the beginning of this book I said that two kinds of experience afforded me acquaintance with great good, namely the experience (including the practice) of community, and the experience (and practice) of critical intelligence. I called these two activities love and reason. I believe that they are significant not only for the understanding of man but for the understanding of the universe. I do not mean that the universe is governed by the principle of love and the principle of reason. There may be some sense in which this is true, but I find no clear evidence for it. I mean simply this. Love and reason seem to me to be essential characteristics of the behaviour of a conscious being that has reached a certain stage of mental growth. In a sense they are implied in the very nature of consciousness. Inevitably there comes a point in the development of consciousness at which a conscious being cannot but recognize love and reason as good. If this is so, then, since it seems almost incredible that consciousness should be without significance for the understanding of the universe, we may well believe that love and reason, even though they may not be the supreme controlling principles of the universe, playa great part in it.

By love I mean in the first instance a certain kind of felt personal relationship, issuing in a certain kind of conduct, namely the relationship in which one individual wills to enrich, and is enriched by, another individual, apprehended as alike yet different. By reason I mean in the first instance simply intelligent behaviour, in which a situation is clearly and comprehensively apprehended, and an appropriate action is taken, an action appropriate in the light of all the relevant facts, including the agent's own felt needs. The more developed kind of intelligent or reasonable behaviour, which is possible only to those who are clearly self-conscious and other-conscious, involves also recognizing and taking into account the needs of others.

Personal relationships are of many kinds. In some there is no clear apprehension of the other as a live individual. In some we perceive and shun. In others we perceive and respect, or even adore. Personal relationship begins with the child's blankly unperceptive friendships and antagonisms. It develops into the more detailed but still largely unseeing romances of love and hate which trouble adolescence. Later, along with increase of self-awareness, comes; or may come, an increasingly objective and perceptive relation to one's fellows. The huge majority of them remain uninteresting and unperceived, but a few loom up as real distinctive individuals, sometimes to be passionately loved or loathed, sometimes to be peacefully co-operated with, more often to be merely shunned. Little by little, as the years pass, one or two may take on great detail of form, though inevitably remaining in important respects unknown or misconceived.

The whole gamut of these experiences contributes to our awareness of community. Even the contacts that we loathe, can be enriching, so long as they do not wound us too deeply. Indeed, even in hate there can be an element of love, a detached relish of the other's alien vitality. But the kind of relationship which is most significant, and the norm of all the others, is that in which each individual is clearly aware of himself and of the other; and in which the two are of very diverse character, bound in mutual respect and mutual enrichment, and in a common task. This relationship varies from superficial and fleeting comradeship to the most intimate life-long partnership, in which each member is radically and often painfully moulded by the other; and in which, though inevitably there is mutual restriction and frustration, there is also mutual strengthening and spiritual increase. Thus there is formed a true community which, though in a sense it is nothing but its members, is also far more than they could possibly be if they existed in isolation from one another.

This kind of relationship cannot be healthy unless the members are united, not only in mutual respect and affection, but also in some kind of common task, whether the rearing of a family or some external work for society.

Further, I believe that it cannot attain full health and full lucidity of experience unless the members are united also in a common attitude to life. I do not mean necessarily in explicit intellectual doctrines but in a common emotional undertone of daily conduct.

In large societies, of course, and in small ones where there is no spontaneous mutual respect, the truly social spirit (if it exists at all) is maintained by the acceptance of the principle that individuality should be respected. This principle is a generalization from the experience of concrete community in personal contacts.

I believe that in the experience of concrete community at its best, based on love and reason, we gain a deeper insight into the nature of the universe than in splitting atoms or in logical analysis of concepts, valuable though these pursuits are. Whatever the truth about the universe, it is certainly capable of producing this thing, community, which we intuitively recognize as being a very great intrinsic good. But since in our day human society is obviously both immature and diseased, and since human nature itself is obviously but a primitive, half-formed and perhaps abortive thing, our experience of individuality-in-community must be regarded as merely a token of what might be. Even our own imperfect human nature is capable of far fuller expression than is possible in our tortured age. And when we think of the astronomical cosmos, in which our planet is a microscopic grain, we cannot but surmise that human community, even in its perfected state, is but a hint of cosmical promise altogether inconceivable to us, yet in essence identical with our own experience of community.

Though the psychical activity that I am calling love manifests for human beings its fullest, clearest expression in the active life of intimate community, there is a love-factor, so to speak, in all experience.. For experience, at bottom, is a relishing of the object by the experient, and a will for mutual intercourse. This is particularly clear in aesthetic experience, in which the artist both creates his work and is created by it. And even in the experience of frustration and pain there may be a factor of love, of acceptance, of enrichment, if the frustration does not go so deep as to be gravely destructive.

In religious contemplation of the universe the factor of love is dominant. It combines hunger to receive the universe and the longing to contribute to it. In its purest form it accepts the universe with piety, even though also with dread, and moral protest against the suffering and wickedness which it recognizes as necessary factors in the rich and excellent whole.

I said that in my experience reason appeared along with love as one of the two great goods. Like love, reason must be interpreted very broadly. It is seen most clearly in any simple intelligent act. It is essentially a disinterested apprehension and scrutiny, issuing in appropriate action. I have no doubt that, like love, its simplest root lies in the simplest kind of awareness and appropriate response. On a higher plane it shows itself as delight in the exercise of intelligence, in whatever field. One form of it is zestful intellectual analysis. But by reason I mean more than intellect. The distinction between intellect and intuition is superficial and misleading. Intellectual activity itself consists of an intuitive correlation of data which are at bottom intuitive. And the more developed and far-reaching intuitions are in part a product of past intellection. None the less there is a sense in which intellect and intuition may be contrasted. In some spheres the laborious intellectual process is more reliable than the intuitive leap. But sometimes the reverse is the case. Sometimes it is definitely unreasonable to trust to intellectual analysis rather than to intuition.

In the sphere of human community reason takes the form of reasonable behaviour, which springs from the will for self-detachment and the will to apprehend objectively the characters and motives of others and of oneself, so as to take them into account in action.

In religious contemplation the reason-factor is very important. I do not for a moment believe that religious contemplation transcends reason, though it certainly transcends intellect. It transcends, though it may use, the abstract concepts which are the medium of intellect. But it is essentially reasonable, since it is a patient striving to see life whole and to put first things first; and its goal is an all-embracing vision and appropriate action. Of course the word "reason" is ambiguous; but, in the sense in which I intend it, reason is certainly a factor in contemplation, which, indeed, is the supreme manifestation of reason.

Both the kinds of experience that seem to me most significant may be regarded as products of creative imagination. The word "creative" is suspect. By "creative imagination" I mean any use of imagination which produces something significantly new either in the mind of the imaginer or in society or in the physical world. No doubt, all imagination is to some slight extent "creative"; but in practice we must distinguish between mainly reproductive imagination and imagination which is mainly and significantly creative.

It is by creative imagination that the child first grasps the universal numerical identity of twice two and four, or the universal redness of all red things and all shades of red. It is by creative imagination that we become more clearly aware of ourselves and of one another as definite personalities, and are able to transcend the life of mere impulsive self-assertion, impulsive affection and impulsive obsequiousness to the herd. In fact it is by creative imagination that we learn to behave with considered self-respect, respect for others and for the common enterprise of society. It is by creative imagination that we bring about new and more vitalizing personal relations, whether with colleagues, friends, lovers, rivals, opponents or enemies. It is by creative imagination that we change the structure of society to meet changing conditions. By the same mental process we devise new mechanisms of physical power and new forms of physical beauty. By creative imagination we develop culture in all its spheres of art, science and philosophy. It is by this power that we expand the horizon of our awareness of the universe, and conceive ways of developing the potentiality of the universe within the narrow confines of our power.

Finally it is by means of creative imagination that we learn detachment not merely from self-regarding desires but from the common human enterprise itself, and reach toward the universal view. In fact the most lucid contemplation is itself the supreme fruit of creative imagination; which on its humblest plane, as on its highest, is simply the power of apprehending the subtle forms of things experienced, and of re-combining them into new forms significant for creative action in the physical or mental spheres.

Now, as I see it, all the acts of creative imagination include a factor of love and a factor of reason, though sometimes it may seem far-fetched to use these words in this connection. For instance it is easy to see that the child's first apprehension of the identity of twice two and four is typical of all the intuitive flashes that make up a process of reason; but has it anything to do with love'? I believe that it has. In my experience everything that is apprehended through creative imagination is in a sense loved. It arouses delight and admiration, even though, if it happens to be something antagonistic to our enterprises, it may also arouse hate. On the other hand, every act of creative imagination involves something which is essentially reason, which is essentially a "putting two and two together", an intuitive grasp of a pattern of many things as one thing. Such is the process by which a man becomes aware of himself as a distinctive person, and of others as persons. Such also are the methods of science and of creative art, and of all the activities mentioned above.

In the case of the supreme activity of contemplation, reason and love seem to me to be equally important factors. For this activity consists essentially in apprehending the experienced world as a whole, not merely in terms of a vast array of intellectual concepts (though these are instrumental), but with something like the immediacy by which We grasp the identity of twice two and four. I do not mean that in the activity which I am calling contemplation we are aware simply of the wholeness of the experienced world and not of any particular detail in it. On the contrary we are more likely to contemplate the whole through some one particular detail, such as, the tone of a certain remark made by a certain remark made by a certain person on a certain occasion, or the sweeping motion of a certain gannet in flight, or some particular general principle, such as the physical theory of Relativity, or the sociological theory of dialectical change. But in contemplation the particular is attended to not simply for itself but for its significance in relation to the whole. We feel the whole through it. In contemplation we feel the universe as a whole, much as we feel a work of art. We do not, of course, feel literally the whole of it, any more than we feel literally all that is in a work of art. We feel extremely little of the universe, even in the most lucid contemplation. But we feel it as a whole, as a unity in which all the infinite diversities, physical and mental, are organic to the whole; in which all joy and grief, all love and hate, all beauty and foulness, con- tribute to the whole. And the whole we salute with an emotion which I have not the wit to describe save lamely as a process of delight and dread and admiration and protest, culminating in mute, unqualified praise. But no sooner have I written these words than I realize how empty and insincere they must sound to anyone who has not seriously attended to this aspect of experience.

I have described the two most significant kinds of experience in my own life, most significant, I mean, for my attempt to form a reasonable belief about the universe. These I now relate to the firm belief stated in the first chapter of this book, namely that I am living in an age of very grave crisis in the struggle between the primitive and the developed ways of social life. The discovery of science and of mechanical power opened up the possibility not only of a more prosperous world in which no human beings need be enslaved to drudgery, but of a world in which personal relationship and contemplation might begin to be not only the most significant but actually the dominating facts of life. The opportunity, as I said, has for the present been missed. We are now in the throes of a regression from love and reason, by which alone the advance could be made; we are falling under the spell of ruthlessness and superstition, which are essentially, opposed to it.

Nevertheless there is a possibility, perhaps a probability, that advance has only been postponed, not permanently frustrated. Perhaps after another ten or fifty years, or at any rate after some centuries, or maybe a millennium or two, our species may successfully negotiate this awkward corner, this terrible psychological crisis of its infancy.

About the immediate issue the revolutionaries seem to me to be largely in the right. Is the world to be freed from the fetters of an outworn economic system and an economic oligarchy with an outworn mentality? Or is the world to be consciously directed for the good of the world-community as a whole? Is the ultimate control of public affairs to lie with the general will of the world-community under the guidance, but not the dictatorship, of experts; of experts in social philosophy, experts in social and economic organization, experts in psychology, experts in education, experts in technology and the various applied sciences? Perhaps human nature is incapable of solving this gigantic and novel world-problem. If it is, then again and again man will approach this critical corner of his career only to recoil frustrated. And sooner or later he will probably lose even such powers as he now has, and the human species will stagnate and decline and vanish.

But even if, some time or other, the critical corner is turned, this will be merely the first and perhaps the easiest phase of a more lengthy crisis. When at last the age-old obstruction has been cleared away, it will be possible to begin re-organizing the planet so that man's new powers may be used single-mindedly for the fulfilling and the further developing of man's capacity for conscious individuality in community. If history takes the right turn, not only will the world-society of the future be a reasonably planned society; it will also be composed of individuals who have not suffered the mental frustration and distortion that renders the present population of the world so unamenable to the methods of kindliness and reason. This great improvement in mental health will enable the world society to be in a very real sense anarchistic; since compulsion, the imposition of an alien fiat (whether of an individual, or a class, or a Marxian directorate), will be unnecessary. Law, however intricate, will be simply the universally accepted custom.

It is of course impossible to foresee how the world-society will develop, but we may be fairly sure about some of its most important features. The full use. of mechanical power and scientific knowledge will do away with the necessity that some human lives should be devoted to sheer drudgery, and crippled by penury. On the other hand for the running of an inconceivably complex world-society there will be limitless scope for every kind and every grade of intelligence and sensitivity, and also for the mentality that thrives best on steady routine.

And the upshot? An immense amount of human energy and ability will be released from socially wasteful and actually harmful occupations, to be directed into the endless task of maintaining and developing the mental life of the world-society. Education, we must suppose, will be a very different thing from what it now is, for it will be single-mindedly directed toward the creation of responsible world-citizens and the development of such creative powers as each individual possesses. The constant aim will be to increase by every possible means, generation by generation, the capacity of our species for personality-in-community. Men will thus become increasingly diverse and individual, and yet at the same time the race as a whole will become more and more unified in respect of mutual knowledge and of fundamental aims.

It seems possible that the human race may embark upon a long phase of prosperity and advancement, a sort of continuously evolving Utopia. During this phase, I imagine, the steady development of the capacity of the world-society, and steady improvement of the average mental calibre will continuously open up new possibilities of social and cultural advance at present inconceivable. No doubt at every stage of this progress there will occur violent conflicts of opinion and policy. But, as I see it, once the foundations of society have been properly laid, and all individuals are conditioned by a strong tradition of civilized behaviour, these conflicts will not threaten to disintegrate society.

Beyond this point the future of man must remain for us very obscure. But we must avoid supposing that, because we can see no further, there is nothing beyond the veil but satiety and stagnation. Let us therefore, in order to dispel this very unreasonable fancy, indulge for moment in daring speculation.

The Utopian phase, which may last for a few hundred or a few thousand years, will surely be no more than a moment in the career of the human species. Sooner or later, as I see it, the process of social and cultural development of the species in its present biological form, and within the confines of its native planet, will reach a point beyond which there is no possibility of further advance in knowing-feeling-striving without a profound refashioning of human nature. This will have to be achieved by means of a biological technique which, fortunately, is at present far beyond our powers. It would indeed be disastrous if we could radically change human nature before we had, as a race, a clear understanding of its true goal. But sooner or later man will be forced by circumstances, such as the planet's inevitable loss of air and water, to utilize the resources of other planets, where the present type of human being could not live. It will also be forced to increase the capacity of the human animal for sensibility and intelligence. By external and internal necessity man will thus enter into a new and drastic dialectical change.

It seems probable, then, that the phase of steadily developing Utopia will at last give place to a second and more profoundly revolutionary "chrysalis" phase of desperate internal conflict, of far-reaching experiment and adventure and re-construction. From this the human race may emerge as different from us, both physically and mentally, as we are from our unicellular ancestors.

We, of course, are incapable of conceiving even the bare outlines of such a remote process. But one thing we can, I believe, say of it with complete confidence. If ever it does occur, it will be controlled by the supreme social purpose which we ourselves are tardily beginning to recognize as the sole reasonable aim of intelligent beings; namely to develop the capacity for conscious living, the power of knowing, feeling, and creative striving.

It is beyond our power to foresee whither the pursuit of this ideal will subsequently lead man. We should not rule out the possibility of a community of highly developed worlds in the solar system, and even of communication and mental intercourse with other intelligent beings scattered throughout the galaxy within which our solar system is a mere atom. It is far more difficult to imagine physical communication between our own galaxy and others in the remotest depths of space. But direct mental intercourse of the kind known as telepathic is not inconceivable.

One other possibility must be mentioned. It may well be that in the distant future the individual, the effective unit in the social texture of personality-in-community, will be something much more like a minded world than like a man or any other known biological organism. Nevertheless so long as the biological individual remains the ground of conscious personality, as in our own case, we must guard against all attempts to subordinate him to the purely mythical personality of race or state.

I mention these speculations about the astronomical future of man only to show that We can set no limit to the development of individuality-in-community, which is the goal or rather the direction implied in our own still primitive nature. In our contemporary world this social aim is not clearly envisaged, save by a few. But if man successfully negotiates the present crisis of his career it will be accepted by all human beings. And in view of the immensity of the universe, and the fundamental physical similarity even of its remotest parts, we may feel confident that, scattered throughout space, other conscious beings have also envisaged this goal. It may well be that in far-distant worlds there are races so unlike us that, if we were to encounter them, each party would at first regard the other as wholly unintelligible, wholly alien, perhaps diabolic. Yet we have already learnt enough to be sure that for awakened minds of all possible races the goal of all social activity is identical; however special its practical interpretation in special circumstances. And we can dimly conceive the possibility that in the fullness of time the physical cosmos as a whole may become the stage on which the final act of the great drama will be performed, the act in which the achievement of individuality-in-community will reach its highest development before the inexorable law of "increase of entropy" begins to undermine the ultimate cosmical society of worlds by starving it of physical energy.

It may be, of course, that the law of entropy is not, after all, inexorable. Our physical science is no more than the first guesswork of a primitive intelligence. Or it may be that, long before the operation of this law begins to curtail the physical resources of mind in the cosmos, mind will have freed itself from dependence on the physical, by some means inconceivable to us. But it would be very rash to put any confidence in this speculation. No doubt recent enquiries into supernormal mental phenomena do suggest that the dependence of mind on body is not as rigid as was supposed; but in the present state of knowledge we must certainly recognize the possibility, some would say probability, that at some point in the process of time there will be a climax in the development of consciousness in the cosmos, followed by a prolonged decline and final extinction.

At this point in my speculation I remind myself that time is suspect. If our experience of events as "passing" gives us the whole truth about time, We must, I believe, in spite of the modern mathematical theory of continuity, suppose that past events and future events are absolutely non- existent, and that what does exist is an instantaneous present universe. Yet it is impossible to conceive of the instantaneous reality as containing passage within itself. If, on the other hand, we insist on something more than an instantaneous present, if we allow the present to be a span so as to accommodate passage, then there is no reason why the minute span of the present should not be extended to embrace the whole past and the whole future. In this view, past events and future events are no less real, no less existent than present events. "Now" becomes merely a point of view. All events of the temporal series have objectively the same status, and the mind itself travels along the series, like the movement of a spot light, illuminating now this, now that event with "presentness". But if we do this, then change is banished from the objective universe, and becomes merely a figment of the mind. Not only so, but, since all events are What they are eternally, free will becomes an illusion. For if all events are eternal, it is nonsense to suppose that they are ever in any way dependent on arbitrary acts of choosing, occurring at particular points of the series of events. The only way to avoid this difficulty is to allow that our choices themselves are simply determinate events coherent with the whole series.

I mention these considerations merely to remind the reader that our temporal experience is not fully intelligible, and to suggest that this is perhaps due to the limitations of our nature. A being who was conscious only of two spatial dimensions could not make sense of the experience of living on a three-dimensional sphere. Perhaps our temporal experience is unintelligible for some such reason. Perhaps only a superhuman mind could make sense of it. For us, what is reasonable is, not to dismiss one or other of the two conflicting aspects of our temporal experience in the interests of some tidy theory, but to hold firmly to both, to the vital experience of passage, of change, of movement, and also to the intuitive conviction that in some sense, as yet unintelligible, all events have an eternal aspect, that they do not simply flash into being and vanish into nonentity.

Perhaps this mystery will some day be solved. Perhaps our own descendants will solve it at no very distant date. On the other hand perhaps the intuitive grasp of the truth about time will not come until mind in the cosmos reaches the climax of its development.

It may be that in the climax of the cosmical process, the fruit of all the toil and suffering of innumerable worlds is the awakening of mind or spirit into full philosophical religious comprehension and full creative power. Perhaps the ultimate truth about mind and the cosmical process may be haltingly conceived by us in terms of a myth. We may imagine that the fully awakened spirit which, in the temporal view, is the fruit of the whole cosmical process, is identical, in the eternal view, with the origin and constant ground of the whole temporal process. Thus, mythically, eternal God, who, in the temporal view, created and supports the world in all its aeons, is also the final offspring and crowning glory of the world.

But perhaps this speculation is false in essence. Perhaps mind in the cosmos is not destined ever to attain to any such perfection and apotheosis. Perhaps the story of the cosmos must be one of sporadic and isolated and unfulfilled spiritual adventures, here and there, in the more fortunate worlds, scattered up and down the galaxies, up and down the aeons. Nay further, perhaps this vast disjointed drama is relished by no universal spectator and is the work of no universal artist.

Probably all these speculations are equally far from the truth. And probably it is well that the truth is hidden from us, for almost certainly the ultimate truth if it could be clearly revealed to us would be too formidable for our tender, our embryonic minds to bear.

Yet we have, I believe, in our own immediate experience something in virtue of which we are entitled to affirm that, whatever the issue of the cosmical process, there is great good in it. For there is love, reason, sensuous delight, creative action; and there is the ecstasy of contemplation. In this last, moreover, we may have an overwhelming sense of the rightness of the whole, whatever the intellectual truth about it. To this experience, so long as we do not overlay it with metaphysical theories, we may reasonably cling. It is the supreme consolation; and, strangely, it is an insistent spur to action. For the felt rightness of the cosmos goads us to play our part in the great drama.

On the earth to-day a poignant and heroic episode in that drama is about to be enacted; nay, is already on foot. Mankind has seized for the first time in its brief career far-reaching knowledge and prodigious power. In adolescent haste it has prostituted that knowledge, abused that power. The penalty is our present phase of world-wide distress, despair, and maniacal fury. But already there are signs that all mankind is awaking. Terrible, hideous, may be the years that are immediately to come. The old order will not easily die, nor the new be easily born. But our suffering shall not be in vain. For out of this confiict of nations, of classes, of creeds, some day soon or late there will emerge a new still unconceived world-order, a new Humanity. And we, we of to-day, in our half blind, half seeing bewilderment, have somehow to make ourselves the instruments of that great change.

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