Physical connection

Physical connection


S 2.—Organism of the Operations of the Soul—of its Maintenance and Support—of Generation.

All those conditions which we accept as requisite to the perfection of man in the moral and material world may be included in one fundamental sentence: The perfection of man consists in his ability to exercise his powers in the observation of the plan of the world; and since between the measure of the power and the end towards which it works there must exist the completest harmony, perfection will consist in the highest possible activity of his powers, and, at the same time, in their mutual subordination. But the action of the human soul is—from a necessity which I do not understand—bound fast to the action of matter. The changes in the world of matter must be modified and, so to speak, refined by a peculiar class of secondary powers—I mean the senses—before they can produce in me any corresponding ideas; while, on the other hand, a fresh set of organic powers, the agents of voluntary movements must come into play between the inner spirit and the outward world in order to make the changes of the former tell upon the latter; thus must the operations of thinking and sensation alike correspond to certain movements of the internal sensorium. All this goes to make up the organism of the soul's activities.

But matter is spoil stolen from the eternal change, and wears itself away, even as it works; in its movement its very element is driven from its grooves, chased away and lost. Because now, on the contrary, that simple essence, the soul, possesses in itself permanence and stability, and in its essence neither gains nor loses aught,—matter cannot keep step with the activity of the spirit, and there would thus soon be an end of the organism of spiritual life, and therewith of all action of the soul. To prevent which there must be added to the first system or organic powers a second one, which shall make good the losses sustained, and sustain the decay by a chain of new creations ready to take the place of those that have gone. This is the organism of maintenance.

Still further. After a short period of activity, when the equal balance of loss and reparation is once removed, man quits the stage of life, and the law of mortality depopulates the earth. There is not room enough for the multitude of sentient beings, whom eternal love and wisdom seemed to have called to a happy existence, to live side by side within the narrow boundaries of our world, and the life of one generation shuts out the life of another. Therefore was it necessary that new men should appear, to take the place of those who had departed, and that life should be kept up in unbroken succession. But of creation there is no longer any trace; what now becomes new becomes so only by development. The development of man must come to pass through man, if it is to bear a proportion to the original number, if man is to be cultivated into man. On this account a new system of organic powers was added to the two that had preceded it, which had for its object to quicken and to develop the seed of humanity. This is the organism of generation.

These three organisms, brought into the most thorough connection, local and real, go to form the human body.

S 3.—The Body.

The organic powers of the human body naturally divide themselves into two principal classes. The first class embraces those which no known laws and phenomena of the physical world enable us to comprehend; and to these belong the sensibility of the nerves and the irritability of the muscles. Inasmuch as it has hitherto been impossible to penetrate the economy of the invisible, men have sought to interpret this unknown mechanism through that with which they were already familiar, and have considered the nerves as a canal conducting an excessively fine, volatile, and active fluid, which in rapidity of motion and fineness was held to excel ether and the electric spark. This fluid was held to be the principle and author of our sensibility and power of motion, and hence received the name of the spirit of life. Further, the irritability of the muscles was held to consist, in a certain effort to contract themselves on the touch of some external provocation. These two principles go to form the specific character of animal organism.

The second class of powers embraces those which we can account for by the universally-known laws of physics. Among these I reckon the mechanism of motion, and the chemistry of the human body, the source of vegetable life. Vegetation, then, and animal mechanism, thoroughly mingled, form the proper physical life of the human body.

S 4.-Animal Life.

This is not yet all. Since loss or misfortune, when it occurs, falls more or less within the will-power of the spirit, the spirit must be able to make some compensation for it. Further, since the body is subjected to all the consequences of this connection, and in the circle of circumstances is exposed to countless hostile forces, it must be within the power of the soul to protect the body against these harmful influences, and to bring it into such relations with the physical world as shall tend most to its preservation. The soul must therefore be conscious of the present evil or good state of its organs; from a bad state it must draw dissatisfaction, from a good state satisfaction, so that it may either retain or remove the condition, seek it or fly from it. Here then we have the organism at once and closely linked to the sensational capacity, and the soul drawn into the service of the body. We have now something more than vegetation, something more than a dead model and the mechanism of nerves and muscles. Now we have animal life. 2

A healthy condition of our animal life is, as we know, most important for the healthy condition of our spiritual life; and we dare never ignore the animal life so long as we are not quit of it. It must therefore possess a firm foundation, not easily moved; that is, the soul must be fitted and prepared for the actions of our bodily life by an irresistible power. Were then the sensations of our animal loss or well-being to become spiritual perceptions, and had they to be created by thought, how often would the soul be obscured by the overwhelming blaze of passion; how often stifled by laziness and stupidity; how often overlooked in the absorptions and distractions of business! Further, would not, in this case, the most perfect knowledge of his economy be demanded of the animal man—would not the child need to be a master in a branch of knowledge in which, after fifty years of investigation, Harvey, Boerhaave, and Haller were only beginners? The soul could thus have positively no idea of the condition she was called upon to alter. How shall she become acquainted with it? how shall she begin to act at all?

2 But we have something more than the animal life of the animal (beast). A beast lives an animal life in order that it may experience pleasant sensations. It experiences pleasant sensations that it may preserve the animal life. It lives now, therefore, in order that it may live again tomorrow. It is happy now that it may be happy to-morrow. But it is a simple, an uncertain happiness, which depends upon the action of the organism, it is a slave to luck and blind chance; because it consists in sensation only. Man, too, lives an animal life,—is sensible of its pleasures and suffers its pains. But why? He feels and suffers that he may preserve his animal life. He preserves his animal life that he may longer have the power to live a spiritual one. Here, then, the means differ from the end; there, end and means seem to coincide. This is one of the lines of separation between man and the animal.

S 5.—Animal Sensations.

So far we have met with such sensations only as they take their rise in an antecedent operation of the understanding; but we have now to deal with sensations in which the understanding bears no part. These sensations, if they are not exactly the expression of the present state of our organs, mark it out specifically, or, better, accompany it. These sensations have quickly and forcibly to determine the will to aversion or desire; but, on the other hand, they are ever to float on the surface of the soul, and never to extend to the province of the reason. The part, accordingly, played by thought, in the case of a mental perception, is here taken up by that modification in the animal parts of us which either threatens the destruction of the sensation or insures its duration: that is, an eternal law of wisdom has combined with that condition of the machine which confirms its welfare, a pleasant emotion of the soul; and, on the other hand, with that condition which undermines it and threatens ruin, an unpleasant emotion is connected; and this in such a manner that the sensation itself has not the faintest resemblance to the state of the organs of which it is the mark. Animal sensations have, on this showing, a double origin: (1) in the present state of the machine; (2) in the capacity or faculty (of sensation).

We are now able to understand how it is that the animal sensations have the power to drive the soul with an irresistible tyranny in the direction of passionate action, and not seldom gain the upper hand in a struggle with those sensations which are most purely intellectual. For these last the soul has produced by means of thought, and therefore they can by thought be solved or even destroyed. Abstraction and philosophy have this power over the passions, over opinions—in short, over all the situations of life; but the animal sensations are forced upon the soul by a blind necessity, by a stern mechanical law. The understanding, which did not create them, likewise cannot dissolve them and make them as if they were not, though by giving an opposite direction to our attention it can do much to weaken their power and obscure their pretensions. The most stubborn stoic, lying in the agony of the stone, will never be able to boast that he did not feel its pain; but, lost in the consideration of the end of his existence, he will be able to divide his whole power of sensation and perception, and the preponderating pleasure of a great achievement, which can subordinate even pain to the general welfare, will be victorious over the present discomfort. It was neither absence of nor annihilation of sensation that enabled Mucius, while he was roasting his hand in the fire, to gaze upon the foe with the Roman look of proud repose, but the thought of great Rome in admiration of his deed. This it was that ruled in his soul, and kept it grandly self-possessed, so that the terrible provocation of the animal pain was too slight to disturb the equal balance of his nature. But not on this account was the pain the Roman suffered less than it would have been in the case of the most effeminate voluptuary. True enough, the man who is accustomed to pass his days in a state of confused ideas will be less capable of manly action, in the critical moment of sensuous pain, than he who lives persistently among ideas distinct and clear; but, for all that, neither the loftiest virtue, nor the profoundest philosophy, nor even divine religion, can save a man from the result of a necessary law, though religion can bless her servants even at the stake, and make them happy as the pile gives way.

The wisest purpose is served by the power which the animal sensations possess over the perceptive faculty of the soul. The spirit once initiated in the mysteries of a higher pleasure would look with disdain upon the motions of its companion, and would pay no heed to the poor necessities of physical life, were it not that the animal feeling compelled it to do so. The mathematician, soaring in the region of the infinite, and dreaming away reality in a world of abstractions, is roused by the pang of hunger from his intellectual slumber; the natural philosopher, dismembering the solar system, accompanying through immeasurable space the wanderings of the planets, is restored by the prick of a needle to his mother earth; the philosopher who unfolds the nature of the Deity, and fancies himself to have broken through the fetters of mortality, returns to himself and everyday life when the bleak north wind whistles through his crazy hut, and teaches him that he stands midway between the beast and the angel.

Against an excess of the animal sensations the severest mental exertion in the end possesses no influence; as they continue to grow stronger, reason closes her ears, and the fettered soul moves but to subserve the purposes of the bodily organization. To satisfy hunger or to quench thirst man will do deeds at which humanity will shudder: against his will he turns traitor or murderer—even cannibal:—

  Tiger! in the bosom of thy mother wilt thou set thy teeth?

—so violent is the influence of the animal sensation over the mind. Such watchful care has the Creator shown for the preservation of the machine that the pillars on which it rests are the firmest, and experience has taught us that it is rather the over-abundance than the want of animal sensations that has carried destruction with it.

The animal sensations therefore may be said to further the welfare of the animal nature, just as the moral and intellectual perceptions promote spiritual progress or perfection. The system of animal sensations and motions, then, comprises the conception of the animal nature. This is the ground on which all the activities of the soul depend, and the conformation of this fabric determines the duration of the spiritual activity itself, and the degree of ease with which it works. Here, then, we find ourselves in possession of the first member of the connection between the two natures.

S 6.—Objections against the Connection of the Two Natures, drawn from Ideas of Morality.

There is no doubt that thus much will be conceded; but the next remark will be: "Here ends, too, any determining influence the body may possess; beyond this point the body is but the soul's inert companion, with whom she must sustain a constant battle, attendance on whose necessities robs her of all leisure, whose attacks and interruptions break the thread of the most intricate speculation, and drive the spirit from the clearest and plainest conceptions into a chaotic complexity of the senses, whose pleasures remove the greatest part of our fellow-creatures far from their high original, and reduce them to the level of the beasts, which, in a word, entangles them in a slavery from which death only can deliver them. Is it not senseless and injust," our complainer might go on to say, "to mix up a being, simple, necessary, that has its subsistence in itself, with another being that moves in an eternal whirl, exposed to every chance and change, and becomes the victim of every external necessity?" On cooler afterthought we shall perhaps see a great beauty take its rise out of this apparent confusion and want of plan