Mystic Intuition And Reason

So much for the nature-mystic's relation to the concept of the

Absolute. It would be interesting to discuss, from the same

point of view, his relations to the rival doctrines of the monists,

dualists, and pluralists. But to follow up these trails with any

thoroughness would lead us too far into the thickets and

quagmires of metaphysics. Fortunately the issues are not nearly

so vital as in the case of the Absolute; and
hey may thus be

passed by without serious risk of invalidating subsequent

conclusions. It may be worth our while, however, to note that

many modern mystics are not monists, and that the supposed

inseparable connection between Mysticism and Monism is

being thrown overboard. Even the older mystics, when wrestling

with the problem of evil, were dualists in their own

despite. Of the moderns, so representative a thinker as Lotze

suggested that Reality may run up, not into one solitary peak,

but into a mountain chain. Hoeffding contends that we have not

yet gained the right to career rough-shod over the antinomies of

existence. James, a typical modern mystic, was an avowed

pluralist. Bergson emphasises the category of Becoming, and, if

to be classed at all, is a dualist. Thus the nature-mystic is happy

in the freedom to choose his own philosophy, so long as he

avoids the toils of the Absolute. For, as James remarks,

"oneness and manyness are absolutely co-ordinate. Neither is

primordial or more excellent than the other."

It remains, then, to subject to criticism the third principle of

Mysticism, that of intuitional insight as a mode of knowing

independent of the reasoning faculties, at any rate in their

conscious exercise. Its root idea is that of directness and

immediacy; the word itself prepares us for some power of

apprehending at a glance--a power which dispenses with all

process and gains its end by a flash. A higher stage is known as

vision; the highest is known as ecstasy. Intuition has its own

place in general psychology, and has acquired peculiar

significance in the domains of aesthetics, ethics, and theology;

and the same root idea is preserved throughout--that of

immediacy of insight. The characteristic of passivity on which

certain mystics would insist is subsidiary--even if it is to be

allowed at all. Its claims will be noted later.

Now Nature Mysticism is based on sense perception, and this in

itself is a form of intuition. It is immediate, for the "matter" of

sensation presents itself directly to the consciousness affected; it

simply asserts itself. It is independent of the conscious exercise

of the reasoning powers. It does not even permit of the

distinction between subject and object; it comes into the mind

as "a given." When conscious thought grips this "given," it can

put it into all manner of relations with other "givens." It may

even to some extent control the course of subsequent sensations

by the exercise of attention and in accordance with a conscious

purpose. But thought cannot create a sensation. The sensation is

thus at the base of all mental life. It furnishes material for the

distinction between subject and object--between the outer and

the inner. The conscious processes, thus primed, rise through

the various stages of contemplation, reflection, abstraction,

conception, and reasoning.

The study of sense perception is thus seen to be a study of

primary mystical intuition. But the similarity, or essential bond,

between the two may be worked at a deeper level. When an

external object stimulates a sensation, it produces a variety of

changes in the mind of the percipient. Most of these may remain

in the depths of subconscious mental life, but they are none the

less real as effectual agents of change. Now what is here

implied? The external object has somehow or other got "inside"

the percipient mind--has penetrated to it, and modified it.

In other words, a form of mystical communion has been

established. The object has penetrated into the mind, and the

mind has come into living touch with the Real external to itself.

The object and the subject are to this extent fused in a mystic

union. How could the fusion take place unless the two were

linked in some fundamental harmony of being? Other and

higher modes of mystical union may be experienced; but sense

perception contains them all in germ. How vain, then, the

absolutist's attempt to sever himself from the sphere of sense!

Intuition, we have seen, must be deemed to be independent of

conscious reasoning processes. But this is not to say that it is

independent of reason, either objectively or subjectively. Not

objectively, for if the world is a cosmos, it must be rationally

constituted. Not subjectively, for man's reasoning faculties may

influence many of his mental activities without rising to the

level of reflective ratiocination. And thus man's communion

with the cosmos, of which he is himself a part, will be grounded

in the reason which permeates the whole.

If we go on to ask what is the relation between intuition and

conscious reflective processes, the answer would seem to be

somewhat of this kind. "Intuition, in its wide sense, furnishes

material; reason works it up. Intuition moves about in worlds

not systematised; reason reduces them to order. Reflective

thought dealing with the phenomena presented to it by sensation

has three tasks before it--to find out the nature of the objects, to

trace their causes, and to trace their effects. And whereas each

intuitional experience stands alone and isolated in its

immediacy, reason groups these single experiences together,

investigates their conditions, and makes them subserve definite

conscious purposes.

But if mystics have too often made the mistake of underrating

the powers and functions of reflective reason, the champions of

logic have also been guilty of the counter-mistake of

disparaging intuition, more especially that called mystical. That

is to say, the _form_ of thought is declared to be superior to the

_matter_ of thought--a truly remarkable contention! What is

reason if it has no material to work up? And whence comes the

material but from sensation and intuition? Moreover, even when

the material is furnished to the reasoning processes, the

conclusions arrived at have to be brought continuously and

relentlessly to the bar, not only of physical fact, but also to that

of intuition and sentiment, if serious errors are to be avoided.

Systematising and speculative zeal have a tendency to run ahead

of their data.

Bergson has done much to restore to intuition the rights which

were being filched or wrenched from it. He has shown (may it

be said conclusively?) that systematised thought is quite

unequal to grappling with the processes which constitute actual

living. Before him, Schopenhauer had poured well-deserved

contempt on the idea that the brain, an organ which can only

work for a few hours at a stretch, and is dependent on all the

accidents of the physical condition of the body, should be

considered equal to solving the problems of existence.

"Certainly" (writes Schwegler) "the highest truths of reason, the

eternal, the divine, are not to be proved by means of

demonstration." But this is no less true of the simplest

manifestations of reality. Knowledge is compelled to move on

the surface when it aims at scientific method and demonstrated

results. Intuitive knowledge can often penetrate deeper, get

nearer to the heart of things and divine their deeper relations.

When intuitions can be gripped by conscious reasoning

processes, man gains much of the knowledge which is power.

But the scope of knowledge in the fullest sense is indefinitely

greater than that of science and philosophy.

Nor is it hard to see why the sphere of reflective thought is thus

comparatively limited. For modern speculations, and even the

straitest psychology, have familiarised us with the idea of a

larger self that is beyond the reach of conscious analysis.

Obscure workings of the mind--emotions, moods, immediate

perceptions, premonitions, and the rest--have a potent part to

play in the actual living of a life. Consider in this connection

such a passage as the following, taken from Jefferies' "Story of

My Heart." It means something, though it is not scientific.

"Three things only have been discovered of that which concerns

the inner consciousness since before written history began.

Three things only in twelve thousand written, or sculptured

years, and in the dumb, dim time before them. Three ideas the

cavemen wrested from the unknown, the night which is round

us still in daylight--_the existence of the soul, immortality, the

deity_. These things . . . do not suffice me. I desire to advance

farther, and to wrest a fourth, and even still more than a fourth,

from the darkness of thought. I want more ideas of soul-life. . . .

My naked mind confronts the unknown. I see as clearly as the

noonday that this is not all; I see other and higher conditions

than existence; I see not only the existence of the soul, but, in

addition, I realise a soul-life illimitable. . . . I strive to give

utterance to a Fourth Idea. The very idea that there is another

idea is something gained. The three gained by the cavemen are

but stepping-stones, first links of an endless chain."

Of course, we are here reminded of Wordsworth's "obstinate

questionings of sense and outward things"; of his "misgivings of

a creature moving about in worlds not realised." Intuition is

feeling its way outwards beyond the sphere of the known, and

emotion is working in harmony with it, the reason still fails to

grip. Morris' description of a like sense of unrealised

possibilities applies, in varying degrees, to men of all sorts and

conditions, though the poets of whom he speaks are the most


"Blind thoughts which occupy the brain,

Dumb melodies which fill the ear,

Dim perturbations, precious pain,

A gleam of hope, a chill of fear--

These seize the poet's soul, and mould

The ore of fancy into gold."

Language is thus employed to proclaim its own inadequacy.

And who can fail to see that between the rich complexity of the

workings of the whole mind and the means by which we would

fain render them articulate, there yawns a gap which no effort

can bridge over? Even the poet fails--much more the scientist!

To refuse to take cognisance of the fresh spontaneity of feeling

and intuition is to rob life of its higher joys and its deeper