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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Will And Consciousness In Nature

The idea that inorganic nature is not merely informed by reason,
but is also possessed of will and consciousness, will strike many
serious students as bizarre and fanciful. There is an enormous
amount of initial prejudice still to be overcome before it can
secure a fair general hearing. It will therefore be advisable to
pass in review the teachings of certain modern thinkers, of
recognised authority, who have espoused and openly advocated
this bizarre idea. And with a view to insuring further
confidence, the _ipsissima verba_ of these authorities will be
freely quoted, where there may be fear of misunderstanding or
misrepresentation. The review will be confined to modern
thinkers, because the views of the ancients in this regard,
though frequently of intense interest, will not carry weight in a
matter which so largely depends upon recent research and

Leibniz profoundly influenced the course of what we may term
"animistic" thought by his doctrine of monads. Whereas
Descartes had defined substance as extension, Leibniz
conceived it as activity, or active force, and as divided up into
an infinite number and variety of individual centres, each with
its own force or life, and, up to a certain point, each with its
own consciousness. All beings are thus essentially akin, but
differ in the grades of consciousness to which they attain. But
since consciousness depends on organisation, and since
organisation is constantly developing, there is continuous
progress. Each individual monad develops from within by
virtue of a spiritual element which it possesses--that is to say,
not mechanically, but from an internal principle, implying
sensation and desire. These monads, when looked at from
without, are grouped together into various extended objects. If
we ask Leibniz how such inwardly developing centres are
combined together into a universe, his reply is that God has so
ordered things that each monad develops in definite relation to
all the rest; they all keep time, like clocks with different works,
springs, pendulums, but regulated to mark simultaneously each
period of time as it passes. This is the famous theory of
pre-established harmony.

This doctrine grants the nature-mystic all he needs, but in an
artificial way which fails to carry conviction. The universe is
split up into isolated units which have no real connection with
each other save through ideas in the mind of God. Communion
with nature, however, should be more direct and more organic
than that effected by a pre-established harmony. Is it possible to
retain the strong points of the theory while securing organic
interpenetration of all modes of existence? Lotze, for one,
deemed it possible. Here is an interesting and typical passage
from his "Philosophy of Religion." "If it is once held
conceivable that a single supreme intelligence may exert an
influence on the reciprocal relations of the elements of the
world, then similar intelligence may also be imagined as
immediately active in all these individual elements themselves;
and instead of conceiving them as controlled merely by blindly
operative forces, they may be imagined as animated spiritual
beings, who strive after certain states, and offer resistance to
certain other states. In such case there may be imagined the
gradual origin of ever more perfect relations, from the
reciprocal action of these elements, almost like the reciprocal
action of a human society; and that too without necessarily
arriving at the assumption to which we are here inclined, of a
single, supreme, intelligent Being. Our reasoning issues rather
in a sort of polytheistic or pantheistic conception, and that too in
quite tolerable agreement with experience."

Lotze, then, conceives the monads to be organically related, and
so combined into one world. He himself inclines to regard them
as all dependent upon one supreme Being. But it is to be
carefully observed that he does not negative the pluralist
hypothesis as inconceivable or impracticable. Indeed, a little
later in the same context, he allows that "a multiplicity of beings
who share with each other in the creation and control of the
world" is more in harmony with the immediate impressions of
experience than "the hasty assumption of one only supreme
wisdom, from which as their source the imperfections of the
world, that in fact are manifest to us, are much more difficult to
comprehend." Lotze may thus be summoned as a supporter of
the contention (urged in an earlier chapter) that the Pluralist
may be a genuine mystic. Interpenetration and co-operation may
supply the place of the metaphysical unity at which the
Absolutists aim. But the main point here is, that Lotze
conceives the universe as organically and spiritually related in
all its parts. It all shares in a common life.

Of a monadistic character, also, are the two closely related
views known as the Mind-Dust theory, and the Mind-Stuff
theory. The former postulates particles or atoms of mind,
distinct from material atoms, but, like them, pervading all
nature, and, under certain conditions, combining to form
conscious mind. The latter does not thus separate mind and
matter, but assumes that primordial units of mind-stuff sum
themselves together and engender higher and more complex
states of mind, and themselves constitute what appears to us as
matter. James in his larger Psychology keenly criticised this
"psychic monadism," and has in his Oxford Lectures on a
"Pluralistic Universe," substantially modified his criticism. It is
not necessary to enter into further detail, but to grasp the fact
that such modern scientists as Clifford inclined to see in the
world, at every point, a manifestation of some grade of
consciousness, and therefore of kinship. The noted French
philosopher, Renouvier, has also resuscitated the monadistic
theory in a form more closely allied to that of Leibniz.

Discussion of the merits and demerits of these various views is
not now in question, but only their value as evidence of the
trend towards a critical animism. The inadequacy of the
mechanical view came home even to a mathematician like

We turn to a very different form of speculation, yet one equally
favourable to the essential contention of the nature-mystic--that
of Schopenhauer, a philosopher whose system is attracting
closer and keener attention as the years pass by. Certain of his
views have been cursorily mentioned in what has preceded, and
will find further mention in what is to follow. But here, the aim
is to focus attention on his fundamental doctrine, that the
Ground of all existence is Will. His line of argument in arriving
at this conclusion is briefly to be stated thus. The nature of
things-in-themselves would remain an eternal secret to us, were
it not that we are able to approach it, not by knowledge of
external phenomena, but by inner experience. Every knowing
being is a part of nature, and it is in his own self-consciousness
that a door stands open for him through which he can approach
nature. That which makes itself most immediately known within
himself is will; and in this will is to be found the _Welt-stoff_.
Let Schopenhauer speak for himself. "Whoever, I say, has
with me gained this conviction . . . will recognise this will
of which we are speaking, not only in those phenomenal
existences which exactly resemble his own, in men and animals,
as their inmost nature, but the course of reflection will lead him
to recognise the force which germinates and vegetates in the
plant, and indeed the force through which the crystal is formed,
that by which the magnet turns to the North Pole, the force
whose shock he experiences from the contact of two different
kinds of metal, the force which appears in the elective affinities
of matter as repulsion and attraction, decomposition and
combination, and, lastly, even gravitation, which acts so
powerfully throughout matter, draws the stone to the earth and
the earth to the sun--all these, I say, he will recognise as
different only in their phenomenal existence, but in their inner
nature as identical, as that which is directly known to him so
intimately and so much better than anything else, and which in
its most distinct manifestation is called will."

Here again we have standing ground for the creed and the
experiences of the nature-mystic. All forms and modes of
existence are akin, and differ only in their phenomenal
conditions. Whether Schopenhauer has not laid too exclusive an
emphasis on will; whether he has not unnecessarily chosen the
lowest types of will as primitive--these are questions to be
discussed elsewhere. Enough that we have in this theory a
definite return to critical animism. He holds the universe to be
throughout of the same "stuff," and that stuff is psychic or
spiritual. Body and soul, matter and spirit, are but different
aspects of the same underlying Reality.

Nevertheless, one question does press upon the nature-mystic.
Is the will to be conscious of its activities? Schopenhauer's
Ground-will is a blindly heaving desire. If his contention be
granted, Nature Mysticism will be shorn of its true glory.
Communion with nature, though it rest on passive intuition,
must somehow be associated with consciousness, if it is to be
that which we best know. That is to say, nature's self-activity
must be analogous to our own throughout--analogous, not
identical. And such a conclusion commends itself to a thinker as
careful and scientific as Stout, who in his "Manual of
Psychology" writes as follows: "The individual consciousness,
as we know it, must be regarded as a payment of a wider whole,
by which its origin and its changes are determined. As the brain
forms only a fragmentary portion of the total system of natural
phenomena, so we must assume the stream of individual
consciousness to be in like manner part of an immaterial
system. We must further assume that this immaterial system in
its totality is related to nervous processes taking place in the
cortex of the brain."

So, too, James, in his "Varieties of Religious Experience,"
declares that "our normal waking consciousness, rational
consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of
consciousness; whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest
of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely
different. We may go through life without suspecting their
existence; but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they
are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality
and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be
final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite

A thinker of a very different type, Royce, in his "World and the
Individual," concurs in this idea of a wider, universal
consciousness. "We have no right whatever to speak of really
unconscious Nature, but only of uncommunicative Nature, or of
Nature whose mental processes go on at such different time-rates
from ours that we cannot adjust ourselves to a live appreciation
of their inward fluency, although our consciousness does
make us aware of their presence. . . . Nature is thus a vast
conscious process, whose relation to time varies vastly,
but whose general characteristics are throughout the
same. From this point of view evolution would be a series of
processes suggesting to us various degrees and types of
conscious processes. The processes, in case of so-called
inorganic matter are very remote from us, while in the case of
the processes of our fellows we understand them better." Again
he calls Nature "a vast realm of finite consciousness of which
your own is at once a part and an example."

A thinker of still another type, Paulsen, whose influence in
Germany was so marked, and whose death we so lately
lamented, was whole-heartedly a sympathiser with Fechner's
views. How James also sympathised with them we saw at the
beginning of the last chapter. Paulsen, on his own account,
writes thus: "Is there a higher, more comprehensive psychical
life than that which we experience, just as there is a lower one?
Our body embraces the cells as elementary organisms. We
assume that in the same way our psychical life embraces the
inner life of the elementary forms, embracing in it their
conscious and unconscious elements. Our body again is itself
part of a higher unity, a member of the total life of our planet,
and together with the latter, articulated with a more
comprehensive cosmical system, and ultimately articulated with
the All. Is our psychical life also articulated with a higher unity,
a more comprehensive system of consciousness? Are the
separate heavenly bodies, to start with, bearers of a unified
inner life? Are the stars, is the earth an animated being? The
poets speak of the earth-spirit; is that more than a poetic
metaphor? The Greek philosophers, among them Plato and
Aristotle, speak of astral spirits; is that more than the last
reflection of a dream of childish fancy?"

And thus we have come to the fullness of the nature-mystic's
position. Reason, will, feeling, consciousness, below us and
above us. As Naegeli, the famous botanist puts it, "the human
mind is nothing but the highest development on our earth of the
mental processes which universally animate and move nature."
To this world-view the child of nature and the philosopher
return again and again. Deep calls unto deep. The exaggerated
and dehumanising claims of purely physical and mechanical
concepts may for a time obscure the intuition by their specious
clarity, but the feelings and the wider consciousness in man
reassert themselves. The stars of heaven no longer swing as
masses of mere physical atoms in a dead universe, they shine in
their own right as members in a living whole. Wordsworth
speaks for the forms of life beneath us when he exclaims:

"And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes."

Emerson speaks for the realm of the inorganic when he assures

"The sun himself shines heartily
And shares the joy he brings."

The great world around us is felt to pulse with inner life and
meaning. It is seen, not only as real, not only as informed with
reason, but as sentient. The old speculations of Empedocles that
love and hate are the motive forces in all things gleams out in a
new light. And that sense of oneness with his physical
environment which the nature-mystic so often experiences and
enjoys is recognised as an inevitable outcome of the facts of
existence. Goethe is right:

"Ihr folget falsche Spur;
Denkt nicht, wir scherzon!
Ist nicht der Kern der Natur
Menschen im Herzen."

Next: Mythology

Previous: Animism, Ancient And Modern

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