BVALLTU and I, in company with the increasing band of our fellow explorers, visited many worlds of many strange kinds. In some we spent only a few weeks of the local time; in others we remained for centuries, or skimmed from point to point of history as our interest dictated. Like a swarm of locusts we would descend upon a new-found world, each of us singling out a suitable host. After a period of observation, long or short, we would leave, to alight again, perhaps, on the same world in another of its ages; or to distribute our company among many worlds, far apart in time and in space.
This strange life turned me into a very different being from the Englishman who had at a certain date of human history walked at night upon a hill. Not only had my own immediate experience increased far beyond the normal age, but also, by means of a peculiarly intimate union with my fellows, I myself had been, so to speak, multiplied. For in a sense I was now as much Bvalltu and each one of my colleagues as I was that Englishman.
This change that had come over us deserves to be carefully described, not merely for its intrinsic interest, but also because it afforded us a key for understanding many cosmical beings whose nature would otherwise have been obscure to us.
In our new condition our community was so perfected that the experiences of each were available to all. Thus I, the new I, participated in the adventures of that Englishman and of Bvalltu and the rest with equal ease. And I possessed all their memories of former, separate existence in their respective native worlds.
Some philosophically minded reader may ask, “Do you mean that the many experiencing individuals became a single individual, having a single stream of experience? Or do you mean that there remained many experiencing individuals, having numerically distinct but exactly similar experiences?” The answer is that I do not know. But this I know. I, the Englishman, and similarly each of my colleagues, gradually “woke” into possession of each other’s experience, and also into more lucid intelligence. Whether, as experients, we remained many or became one, I do not know. But I suspect that the question is one of those which can never be truly answered because in the last analysis it is meaningless.
In the course of my communal observation of the many worlds, and equally in the course of my introspection of my own communal mental processes, now one and now another individual explorer, and now perhaps a group of explorers, would form the main instrument of attention, affording through their particular nature and experience material for the contemplation of all. Sometimes, when we were exceptionally alert and eager, each awakened into a mode of perception and thought and imagination and will more lucid than any experiencing known to any of us as individuals. Thus, though each of us became in a sense identical with each of his friends, he also became in a manner a mind of higher order than any of us in isolation. But in this “waking” there seemed to be nothing more mysterious in kind than in those many occasions in normal life when the mind delightedly relates together experiences that have hitherto been insulated from one another, or discovers in confused objects a pattern or a significance hitherto unnoticed.
It must not be supposed that this strange mental community blotted out the personalities of the individual explorers. Human speech has no accurate terms to describe our peculiar relationship. It would be as untrue to say that we had lost our individuality, or were dissolved in a communal individuality, as to say that we were all the while distinct individuals. Though the pronoun “I” now applied to us all collectively, the pronoun “we” also applied to us. In one respect, namely unity of consciousness, we were indeed a single experiencing individual; yet at the same time we were in a very important and delightful manner distinct from one another. Though there was only the single, communal “I,” there was also, so to speak, a manifold and variegated “us,” an observed company of very diverse personalities, each of whom expressed creatively his own unique contribution to the whole enterprise of cosmical exploration, while all were bound together in a tissue of subtle personal relationships. I am well aware that this account of the matter must seem to my readers self-contradictory, as indeed it does to me. But I can find no other way of expressing the vividly remembered fact that I was at once a particular member of a community and the possessor of the pooled experience of that community.
To put the matter somewhat differently, though in respect of our identity of awareness we were a single individual, in respect of our diverse and creative idiosyncrasies we were distinct persons observable by the common “I.” Each one, as the common “I,” experienced the whole company of individuals, including his individual self, as a group of actual persons, differing in temperament and private experience. Each one of us experienced all as a real community, bound together by such relations of affection and mutual criticism as occurred, for instance, between Bvalltu and myself. Yet on another plane of experience, the plane of creative thought and imagination, the single communal attention could withdraw from this tissue of personal relationships. Instead, it concerned itself wholly with the exploration of the cosmos. With partial truth it might be said that, while for love we were distinct, for knowledge, for wisdom, and for worship we were identical. In the following chapters, which deal with the cosmical, experiences of this communal “I,” it would be logically correct to refer to the exploring mind always in the singular, using the pronoun “I,” and saying simply, “I did so and so, and thought so and so”; nevertheless the pronoun “we” will still be generally employed so as to preserve the true impression of a communal enterprise, and to avoid the false impression that the explorer was just the human author of this book.
Each one of us had lived his individual active life in one or other of the many worlds. And for each one, individually, his own little blundering career in his remote native world retained a peculiar concreteness and glamour, like the vividness which mature men find in childhood memories. Not only so, but individually he imputed to his former private life an urgency and importance which, in his communal capacity, was overwhelmed by matters of greater cosmical significance. Now this concreteness and glamour, this urgency and importance of each little private life, was of great moment to the communal “I” in which each of us participated. It irradiated the communal experience with its vividness, its pathos. For only in his own life as a native in some world had each of us actually fought, so to speak, in life’s war as a private soldier at close grips with the enemy. It was the recollection of this fettered, imprisoned, blindfold, eager, private individuality, that enabled us to watch the unfolding of cosmical events not merely as a spectacle but with a sense of the poignancy of every individual life as it flashed and vanished. Thus I, the Englishman, contributed to the communal mind my persistently vivid recollections of all my ineffectual conduct in my own troubled world; and the true significance of that blind human life, redeemed by its little imperfect jewel of community, became apparent to me, the communal “I,” with a lucidity which the Englishman in his primaeval stupor could never attain and cannot now recapture. All that I can now remember is that, as the communal “I,” I looked on my terrestrial career at once more critically and with less guilt than I do in the individual state; and on my partner in that career at once with clearer, colder understanding of our mutual impact and with more generous affection.
One aspect of the communal experience of the explorers I have still to mention. Each of us had originally set out upon the great adventure mainly in the hope of discovering what part was played by community in the cosmos as a whole. This question had yet to be answered; but meanwhile another question was becoming increasingly insistent. Our crowded experiences in the many worlds, and our new lucidity of mind, had bred in each of us a sharp conflict of intellect and feeling. Intellectually the idea that some “deity,” distinct from the cosmos itself, had made the cosmos now seemed to us less and less credible. Intellectually we had no doubt that the cosmos was self-sufficient, a system involving no logical ground and no creator. Yet increasingly, as a man may feel the psychical reality of a physically perceived beloved or a perceived enemy, we felt in the physical presence of the cosmos the psychical presence of that which we had named the Star Maker. In spite of intellect, we knew that the whole cosmos was infinitely less than the whole of being, and that the whole infinity of being underlay every moment of the cosmos. And with unreasoning passion we strove constantly to peer behind each minute particular event in the cosmos to see the very features of that infinity which, for lack of a truer name, we had called the Star Maker. But, peer as we might, we found nothing. Though in the whole and in each particular thing the dread presence indubitably confronted us, its very infinity prevented us from assigning to it any features whatever.
Sometimes we inclined to conceive it as sheer Power, and symbolized it to ourselves by means of all the myriad power-deities of our many worlds. Sometimes we felt assured that it was pure Reason, and that the cosmos was but an exercise of the divine mathematician. Sometimes Love seemed to us its essential character, and we imagined it with the forms of all the Christs of all the worlds, the human Christs, the Echinoderm and Nautiloid Christs, the dual Christ of the Symbiotics, the swarming Christ of the Insectoids. But equally it appeared to us as unreasoning Creativity, at once blind and subtle, tender and cruel, caring only to spawn and spawn the infinite variety of beings, conceiving here and there among a thousand inanities a fragile loveliness. This it might for a while foster with maternal solicitude, till in a sudden jealousy of the excellence of its own creature, it would destroy what it had made.
But we knew well that all these fictions were very false. The felt presence of the Star Maker remained unintelligible, even though it increasingly illuminated the cosmos, like the splendor of the unseen sun at dawn.
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