Art. XI.—Remarks on Mr. Frankland's Paper on “Mind-Stuff”
[Read before the Southland Institute, 26th March, 1881.]
Mr. Frankland's paper on “Mind-Stuff”* excited considerable attention amongst the ethical world of Wellington; and, as it is a subject in which interest is ever reviving, I hope I shall be held excused for bringing it before the notice of the members of the Southland Institute. On hearing the paper read, I found my opinions at variance with the author, and had noted my objections at the time, but any desire of stating these publicly and immediately lapsed in my listening to the reply by Mr. Justice Richmond. However, on reperusing the paper as printed in the “Transactions,” it struck me that there was yet room for observations, and they are as follows:—
Mr. Frankland, at the commencement, states the object of his paper as being “to describe briefly a theory or doctrine of existence, expounded by the late Professor Clifford, in an article ‘On the Nature of Things in Themselves,’” and, at the end, he sums up in the following manner: “That there is nothing in the doctrine of Mind-Stuff to negative the belief either of the spiritualist or the theologian;” but, “there is equally little in it to encourage or lend assistance to theological belief.” Again, “In regard to theology, the doctrine of Mind-Stuff,” he says, “is neutral.” “It affirms that there is only one Existence, and that the supposed dualism of matter and spirit is an illusion.”
[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. XII., p. 205.
The above summation is founded on the following main precepts, which I reproduce as succinctly as I can:—
That all the properties of material objects are capable of being analysed into possibilities of feeling, or relations among possibilities of feeling.
That the only concrete realities—i.e., things in themselves—are feelings. All the real existences we know of being mental states.
That the external world is an “eject”—i.e., the minds of my readers are “ejects” of me, and my mind is an “eject” to them.
Acccording to the doctrine of Mind-Stuff, feelings or thoughts are noumena, the “things-in-themselves” which underlie the changes in the grey matter of the brain.
The universe is a stupendous web of Mind-Stuff from eternity to eternity, and the universe of matter is a complex of possibilities of feeling.
Motion is Mind-Stuff, volume of feeling is mass, intensity of feeling velocity.
The relations of synchronism among elements of feeling will have their counterparts among motions of matter, etc.
Of this theory of existence, the author informs us that he arrived at it independently of Professor Clifford, as far back as the year 1870, which, stating it in my own way, makes reality into nullity, and the things of this universe into mere possibilities of feeling.
It struck me at the time the paper was read, that, though accepted as discoveries, these doctrines were not new. Turning, then, to Wilson's Religion of the Hindoos, and coming to the Satnami Sect, we find that to them worldly existence is an illusion, or the work of Maia, the primitive character of Bhavani, the wife of Siva. However, they recognize the whole Hindoo pantheon (and “hence there is nothing in their doctrines to negative the belief either of the spiritualists or theologians of their nation”), but although they profess to worship only one God, they pay reverence to what they consider manifestations of his nature visible in the Avatars particularly Rama and Krishna.
Next the Sunyavadis have an atheistical creed. They say what we behold is vanity. Theism and Atheism, Maia and Brahma, all is false, all is error—the globe itself, the egg of Brahma, the seven Dwipas and nine Khandas, heaven and earth, the sun and moon, etc., etc. Speech, hearing, and discussion, are emptiness, and substance itself no more (than this). Let every one meditate on himself (“perform self-analysis with perfect precision and faithfulness” as Mr. Frankland expresses himself) nor make self-communion known to another; let him be the worshipper and the worship, There is no other but myself, and I talk of another from
ignorance. In the same way as I see myself in a glass, I see myself in others; but it is an error to think that what I see is not my face but that of another. Father and mother are non-entities; I am the infant and the old man, the wise man and the fool, the male and female, etc.
Thus we have the old adage exemplified, that there is nothing new under the sun, however unexpected be the quarter in which we find it. But we have nothing to do with the peculiar persuasions of the Cliffords, Frank-lands, Satnamis, and Sunyavadis in their religious aspect, it is only in their scientific phase that this society, by its constitution, permits discussion. I shall, therefore, address myself to this portion.
According to Mr. Frankland, “the universe of matter” is “a complex of possibilities of feeling,” and again “feelings or mental states, comprising comparatively vivid ones known as sensations and emotions, the fainter copies of these, sometimes called ‘ideas,’ constitute the” material of which thought is woven, and certain unique states of mind which form integral parts of volition and belief—states of mind which assimilate most nearly to emotions, but which may be described as somewhat too colourless, if the term be allowable, to be fairly classed with these.”
Here almost at the commencement of his paper I find myself at issue with the author, my view going only so far as to say that the universe of matter may be a complex of possibilities of feeling, but to which I must add that these same feelings are either no guide or doubtful and very erring indicators in comprehending such matter of the universe.
Thus we stand on the surface of this world, and feel that the sun, moon, and stars traverse the heavens above us. Our feelings lead us to the belief that we stand stable, and the universe revolves round us. But a higher faculty informs us to the contrary. This faculty we call reason, and which is seldom at one with our feelings, but more often at variance; further, sometimes in diametrical opposition, such as in the case above recited. How frequently do not our feelings impel us to do that which is wrong, and how often would we do wrong had we not reason to stay us? Indeed, our feelings are astray in almost every direction, that it is a wonder to me to see men with enquiring minds building up a theory of empty existence on them. Thus, in the physical world, our feelings tell us that the sun has risen; our educated reason tells us it has not, for it only appears to have risen; the truth being that it has not, atmospheric refraction creating the deception. Many such illustrations might be entered into, but this would be tedious.
Again, in the moral world, how often our feelings would deceive us by impelling us to retort the angry word, and how well it is when reason comes to our aid and directs the opposite course, which is the true one,
Thus I am unconvinced when the author describes “feelings or mental states” as being divided into “vivid” and “faint,” the former being “emotions,” the other “ideas.” On the contrary, my study of the subject has led me to conclude that these attributes are not similar, and only differing by degree of power, but opponent, though essential. And to the ideal part of man's nature I give incomparably the higher place. It is by his ideal or ethereal nature that man weighs the sun as it were in a balance; that he predicts by many years the positions of the stars in the heavens; that he anticipates eclipses and other astronomical phenomena; that he scientifically navigates the great ocean, and that he by his designs overcomes space and time by the railway and electric telegraph. Thus man is gifted with an attribute far outside of gross narrow feeling, as truthful and transcendent in its comprehensiveness as the latter is misleading and misguiding. Hence there is objeetiveness and idealization or mental conception attached to man's life, the former being that function of the feelings which makes us accept as actual what is only apparent and inaccurate, while the latter is that function of the mind which enables us to comprehend what we arrive at by processes of abstract study, thought, deliberation, or consideration, entirely apart from feeling. This gift of mental conception places man in his pre-eminent position in nature, and is that ethereal part of his being which being truthful is undying and immortal.
Mr. Frankland describes man as believing his fellow-creatures to be conscious beings, while that the higher animals are sentient. It is difficult for me to guess the particular import he gives to these words, but I may suggest that he takes the former as being the power of reflection, the latter the power of perception. If so, to my mind these terms are not so appropriate as the orthodox ones—i.e., reason and instinct. It is true that reason and instinct approach at times so closely that we cannot know where the one begins and the other ends, for some of the higher animals show a sagacity which makes it hardly possible to deny them some of the attributes, however small, of reason. Yet that the higher animals are only sentient I think is not consistent with correct observation, for even the lowest creatures must be admitted to have perceptions of a kind due to their varied wants and habits. In this manner even the worms have per-ception, and hence are sentient. To my mind, therefore, the orthodox and approved terms are yet the best—i.e., reason and instinct. The material difference between man and beast is that the former stands erect on two feet; the ethereal difference is that having reason man can restrain himself, and in so restraining himself he can record and bear to record his actions, and in recording his actions he can take praise or blame, and in praising and blaming he reasons. And his reason, an ethereal attribute,
carries him yet further; it gives him knowledge of letters, and he writes down events; thus the history of 4,000 years is unlocked to him. By the knowledge of figures he explores the heights of the heavens and the depths of the earth, and beholds with wonder and enjoyment the works of creation. To neither the sentient faculty of the beasts, nor the mere sensualism of humanity, could these be made obvious. They are beyond the “possibilities of feeling.”
Then as to Mr. Frankland's doctrine regarding the relations of synchronism among elements of feeling having their counterparts among, motions of matter, we are again at issue. Our conclusion being that among motions of matter and elements of feeling there is the contrary. Let us by way of illustration take an event, such as the firing of a cannon, wherein there is “motion of matter.” By “self-analysis with perfect precision and faithfulness,” what would be the relations of an observer's feelings in regard to this?
Let, for example, the observer be at 12 miles distance. First he would see the flash, next he would hear the report, then he might smell the fumes were his olfactory nerves peculiarly sensitive and the wind favourable. Now, by these elements of feeling, would there be synchronism in relation to the event? By precise and scientific analysis not so. For with the knowledge of the speed of light which reason has enabled us to measure, the event would be impressed on the feeling of sight, not synchronously, but 6/100,000th of a second after it. By sound it would come to the feeling of hearing one minute after, and carried by the wind it might be smelt in feeling a quarter or half an hour afterwards. Thus among the elements of feeling the relations of events are not in synchronism, but in complete discordance.
Hence in regard to a single event or events there is no synchronism “between a man's own feelings” and things as they appear to him, one sense leading him 6/100,000th part of a second astray from scientific truth, another one minute, and another a quarter to half an hour. “Feelings,” therefore, give no rigid or scientific basis on which to found a “theory of existence;” and if this is to be attained it must be by and through the higher phase of man's nature—viz., the ethereal one, reason, which gives him the power of accurate and truthful mental conception, and ultimately stable faith and belief.
And it may be mentioned in passing, though it has no necessary connection with the argument, that neither do separate men's feelings admit of synchronism as with each other. This fact is well-known to astronomers, when observing by time, wherein it is a fact that one person does not hear or see concurrently. Thus, in time observations: one person hears before
the other, sometimes to the extent of half a second; while in instrumental reading, one often reads a minute or two different from the other, and in order to overcome the inexactitude or deficiency of sense or feeling in this respect, the mental power of men,—i.e., reason,—has again to be had recourse to; wherein minute calculations, abstract of feeling, are made to reconcile the observations of different persons,—in other words personal equation has to be ascertained by man's ethereal or mental attributes, and allowed for, in all investigations which approach higher science or rigid truthfulness.
As synchronism between feelings and events is a radical element of Mr. Frankland's theory of Existence, I will be excused in dilating on it some-what prolixly; and, in doing so, may bring to notice the very unequal manners and different times in which separate men's feelings are affected by influences and objects. Thus rhetoric makes one laugh, another cry, another sorrowful, and another angry; and, while the feelings of none are affected exactly alike, neither is the time of affection one and the same. Some being notoriously slow and obtuse in impression, others easily and rapidly moved. Some are case-hardened to any appeal; others, the contrary. Hence, as between one man and another, feelings and events are anything but in synchronism. Now as on this doctrine Mr. Frankland founds his ultimate theory,—to wit, that there is only one Existence, therefore, to his showing, non-synchronism indicates two more, or many existences; this is obvious as between man and man, or as between multitudes of men.
Again, in each individual we have seen that neither is there synchronism in regard to “motions of matter,” or events “among elements of feeling,” hence, by the same rule we are bound to conclude, that in each individual there is more than one Existence.
And when we consider the widely-distinct essentials appertaining to man's position in creation,—that is in the lower attribute, “feeling,” always erring or inaccurate, and, as between the several senses, discordant; in the higher attribute, “reason,” capable of accuracy, truth, and concordance; the one feeding on the apparent, the other on the intangible; the one on the objective, the other on the invisible; the one on the relative, the other on the abstract; the one on the material, the other on the ethereal; the one contracted, the other boundless; we are led up to the doctrine of two Existences,—the one fleshly, revealed through our feelings, the other mental, revealed through our reason: the one Existence of matter finite, the other Existence of spirit Eternal.