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10: Life and Mind and Their Use of the Ether

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« on: April 10, 2024, 08:15:14 am »

Life and Mind and Their Use of the Ether
The Ether's perfect properties, and service to Reality.

Is not animal motion performed by the vibration of this medium, excited in the brain by the power of the will?---NEWTON.

Every vital process may conceivably thus be correlated with a mechanical process . . . without lending any countenance to a theory that would place its initiation under the control of any such system of mechanical relations.---SIR JOSEPH LARMOR.

Whether this vast homogeneous expanse of isotropic matter is fitted not only to be a medium of physical interaction between distant bodies, and to fulfil other physical functions of which perhaps we have as yet no conception, but also . . . to constitute the material organism of beings exercising functions of life and mind as high or higher than ours are at present is a question far transcending the limits of physical speculation.---CLERK MAXWELL.

LET us now run over some of the properties of the Ether so far as they have been ascertained. It is a universal connecting medium, filling all Space to the furthest limits, penetrating the interstices of the atoms without break in its continuity. So completely does it fill Space that it is sometimes identified with space; it has been spoken of as Absolute Space; it is also called "The Continuum." But, whatever name be given to it, it is a substantial reality; though to us it appears as empty space because we have no sense organ for its appreciation. It is invisible, intangible, inaudible. But it can be thrown into tremors by heated bodies, and for some of these tremors we have a receiving organ in the eye, which is our one physical or physiological link with the ether.

Matter has nothing to do with the transmission of light, it is an obstruction: it can check or modify the transmission, and that is all. Light is a purely etherial phenomenon. So also are electric and magnetic fields. They exist in connexion with matter, but in themselves are purely etheric.

The first function of the Ether is to weld the atoms together by cohesion, and the planets and stars together by gravitation. The second function is to transmit vibrations from one piece of matter to another, which it does at a great but finite speed which can be measured; thus telling us something about itself, and showing that it belongs to the material or physical Universe, though it is not what we ordinarily speak of as matter. Matter is that which is capable of locomotion: its primary property is to move from place to place; though the inertia or momentum with which it moves must belong wholly to the Ether of which it is presumably composed. People sometimes try to feel a difficulty about motion in a plenum; they say, If space is completely full, how can things move? There is no real difficulty: fish move about freely in the depths of the ocean.

The Ether is now believed to be a very substantial substance, far more substantial than any form of matter. Matter is made of separate particles, at a considerable distance from each other: it strikes us as a sort of accident in the Ether, with a structure which demands explanation and investigation, not yet completely forthcoming.

The Ether has perfect properties, such as no form of ordinary matter has. Matter is only sub-permanent; it is liable to all manner of deterioration. Solid bodies break up, disintegrate, and decay: material things wear out, they are imperfectly elastic: a spring bent too long gets permanently set, and does not recoil. Matter is subject to fatigue; it ages: complicated molecules break up into simpler ones. Nothing in that sense is permanent. The everlasting hills are not everlasting; they rise and they fall the changes are slow but inevitable.

  "The hills are shadows and they flow
   From form to form and nothing stands.
   They melt like mist, the solid lands,
   Like clouds they shape themselves and go."

The crust of the earth displays the history of past times.

  "Oh, Earth, what changes hast thou seen!
   There where the long street roars, hath been
   The stillness of the central sea." [In Mem. 123.]

Of ancient civilisations we find only traces: the most solid buildings are temporary. All the energy of matter tends to fritter itself down into heat,---what is called the dissipation of energy. Not that the energy goes out of existence, it changes its form and ceases to be available; like milk spilt upon the ground, it is no longer useful, though still it exists.

It used to be thought that this law of dissipation applied to the whole Universe: it applies only to the matter portion of it. The stars are wearing themselves away; where there is heat there is also radiation; the energy of matter is transferring itself to the Ether, which is the universal store-house of energy. Whether matter is ever reconstituted from the Ether we do not know: if it is, it will be re-made in the depths of space, far away, and can then fall together again and renew another and another frame of things for ever.

Energy is constant in quantity; it changes its form. Sometimes it is matter in motion, then again it is ether in vibration, or else it is strained ether without vibration. All the energy really belongs to the ether, but it manifests itself in different forms. No law of dissipation applies to the Ether; that is what I mean by saying that its properties are perfect. Ether fritters away no energy, is preserves all: it is perfectly transparent; it transmits light from the most distant stars without waste or loss of any kind. Only matter dissipates energy, only matter wastes and decays, only matter ages and wears out.

What we know as electric charge and magnetism can readily pass into insensible forms. A steel magnet may lose its magnetism, just as a steel spring may lose its elasticity; a charged body can become discharged; but the essential ingredients remain. The magnetic loops, which in a magnet are opened out and made perceptible, never cease; they may close up, but they are still there, and the circulation with which they are endowed continues without friction and without loss. So also the ripples or tremors in the Ether, however much they may become diluted by spreading out, and however feeble they are by reason of distance, never cease: they either continue as ripples, or they turn into some other form of energy. They are, astonishingly, still found to have the power of ejecting electrons with full vigour, when they encounter atoms, even very distant atoms, under proper conditions.

It is important to recognise that the Ether and its properties are absolutely permanent: there is no irregularity or random motion in ether, as there is among the atoms of a gas or solid. Random motion in matter is called "heat": there is no true heat in the Ether: there is vibration, but it is systematic and orderly vibration, travelling always at the same speed, the one absolute speed in the Universe, which we have measured as the velocity of light.

So far we are on fairly safe ground. Now let us speculate a little, and apply what we have learnt to the elucidation of some phenomena which we have not yet dealt with.

Matter exists not only in the inorganic form of solids, liquids, and gases, and in the disintegrated form of electrons and protons; it exists also as the complex molecules known as protoplasm, which for some reason or other has shown itself to be the vehicle of life. Some forms of matter are endowed with or animated by life. This property of animation is a great mystery; we do not know what "life" is, we only see what it can do. We perceive that it can enter into relation with matter, that it has a character and identity of its own, and that it builds up matter to correspond with or to represent that identity. Life can take a variety of forms, and every form is characterised by a certain shape the life of an oak is trans- mitted to an oak, the life of an elm to an elm, "To every seed his own body." One form of life takes the shape of a bird, another of a fish, another of a quadruped. The varieties of life are innumerable, and are studied in the great science of Biology.

What has that to do with the Ether? Consider any piece of matter and we shall see. Contemplate any solid object; a vase, it may be, or a jewel, or a statue: what is it that holds the atoms together in that particular shape? If the atoms were not connected they would be moving about at random, like the atoms of a gas; but they are connected, crystallized as it were together, by the forces of cohesion. Even in a liquid they are held together into a body of definite size, though not of a definite shape. A liquid has size, though not shape; a gas has neither; a solid has both. The shape is most definite and law-abiding in a crystal; but in a plant or an animal it has a definite character too,---not so definite as in a crystal, a good deal of variety is possible, yet an animal or vegetable body has an undoubted character of its own, even to minute detail. And this character is handed down from one generation to another; modified perhaps, but only slowly, by the age-long process of Evolution.

At a certain stage in the course of evolution, not Life only makes use of the animated protoplasmic material, conscious Mind enters into relation with it too. There is much to be said about that; nor is the subject free from controversy. But however the fact ought to be expressed, the fact itself is familiar. Life and Mind have entered into relation with matter. What they are we know not: we can only study their behaviour: they use matter for a time and then disappear. "Disappear": that is the word: we have no right to say they go out of existence; that would be going beyond our knowledge: they go out of our ken. If they are real things, it is quite unlikely that they go out of existence. What their existence really means I for one have no idea: all I know is that they can temporarily animate and control matter.

But do they animate matter alone? What about the Ether which holds the atoms together, the welding ether which is essential to the characteristic configuration of a body---which is as essential as the matter itself? We do not usually attend to the ether aspect of a body; we have no sense organ for its appreciation, we only directly apprehend matter. Matter we apprehend early, when young children, but as we grow up we infer the Ether too, or some of us do. We know that a body of characteristic shape, or indeed of any definite shape, cannot exist without the forces of cohesion,---cannot exist therefore without the Ether;---meaning by the Ether now, not the whole, but the unmaterialised part of it, the part which is the region of strain, the receptacle of potential energy, the substance in which the atoms of matter are embedded. Not only is there a matter body, there is also an ether body: the two are co-existent.

Does Life enter into relation with the Ether as well as with matter? How it relates itself with matter we do not know; we only know the fact. We cannot assert that it enters into relation with Ether: we can but ask the question. A matter body is animated when it belongs to a plant or an animal. Is the Ether body likewise animated? If so, we may well ask further---what happens when the matter body wears out? We may be sure that the Ether body does not wear out: that is contrary to all we know about the Ether and its perfect properties. No, but if the animation ceases from one, it may cease from the other. It may: we cannot assert either way: it is a question of fact; and the fact is not yet certainly known.

But there is a higher kind of animation, that which is characterized by Mind and Consciousness, and Memory and Affection, and many other extraordinary attributes, which we know of but do not understand. I do not deny these attributes to the higher animals, but they are conspicuous in man. Are they transitory, or are they permanent? In the first instance we only ask the question, and say it is a question of fact still to be ascertained. These attributes do not seem to belong to the material or physical universe at all: they seem to belong to another order of things---(perhaps "things" is not the right word)---another order of existence: we do not understand their nature, but up to a certain point we are familiar with them. They belong to the Unseen Universe, the universe which makes no appeal to our senses. Do these psychical attributes require a vehicle in the material universe? Apparently they do: we know them when embodied, they are embodied in matter; they act on matter and move it, move it and rearrange it,---which is a special kind of motion. That is all they do to matter: they make use of the particles of matter to display themselves, and only when they operate on matter are we aware of mind and consciousness in others, because our senses are material senses.

But, we are bound to ask, about these psychical things, do they act on matter directly or indirectly? Now we are coming to a region which is open to experiment and observation. How do we ourselves act on matter? The matter of our bodies has been put together unconsciously: our individuality has done it, in ways we know not how: we could not build up this body consciously. But it has been built up, and it is ours to control. By aid of the body we can operate on external matter: we can consciously move other bodies; we can build things, we can set things rolling, we can lift things, we can also imagine structures and then make them; we can design and we can execute; we can build bridges and cathedrals; we can paint pictures and carve statues; we can throw matter into vibration and produce audible music; we can move a pen over paper and write a poem; we can speak and we can broadcast. In other words we can use matter to display our thoughts. Moreover beings similar to ourselves can receive those thoughts, being acted upon by the vibrations of the air or of the Ether: they have the faculty of interpreting those vibrations in the way which the originating mind intended. All this is very puzzling, very mysterious. The Universe to which we belong is greater than the physical universe: it utilises and dominates it. Shall we say that we share the disabilities of matter, that we wear out and decay, that our existence is limited to the instrument which we employ? Or may we surmise that, like the Ether, we have a more permanent and perfect existence, not liable to death and decay? It is a question that we can ask, to which an answer may in due time be forthcoming: in my opinion has already come.

Meanwhile I have not answered the question which I asked a little time ago. How do we consciously, through our muscles, act upon matter? The first answer is, By contact: we touch a body and we move it. But consider what we have learnt. What do we mean by contact? Atoms of matter are never in contact: when two pieces of matter come within close range of each other, there are forces of repulsion between them which prevent contact: one electron cannot touch another electron; they repel each other too violently for that. Whether an electron can ever touch a proton we do not know, but if it did, something extraordinary would happen; there would be a flash of radiation and the two particles would disappear. That is not what happens when we move a body! The fact is we touch it only through the Ether. Just as a magnet attracts a bit of iron through the ether, and an electric charge repels another through the ether, so it is on the ether that our muscles act directly, and on objects only indirectly. I believe that that is so always, and that our real bodily manifestation is through the Ether primarily, and through the matter associated with it indirectly. I wish to make the hypothesis that it is the Ether which is really animated, and that this animated ether interacts with matter; I suggest that the true vehicle of life and mind is Ether, and not matter at all.

But so long as we acted on the ether only,---if our action was limited to that---we should not be able to make any impression on the senses of our friends and neighbours: hence indirectly, and by means of the ether, we act on matter as well. Somehow or other we have constructed bodies which represent our personality; and with them we can move about, make vibrations, alter the configuration of the world in which we live, and represent to others our ideas and conceptions and feelings and wishes and desires. It is a very indirect and singular process: there may be other and more direct methods of mental communion: some people think there are, and call them Telepathy; others think we can act only through and by means of matter. Somehow or other one mind can act on another, but the ordinary method by which it does so is extremely roundabout: in some mysterious way it liberates energy from the brain-cell, which then travels along a nerve, stimulates a muscle to contract; and then either the hand writes, or the larynx vibrates, or the fingers press a telegraph key. The result is that either an aerial or an etherial disturbance is set up, which travels to a distance, is there received by a suitable instrument (usually either an ear or an eye,) appropriate nerves are stimulated, and the stimulus reaches a brain cell. Energy put in at one end comes out at another, and in some quite unknown way a corresponding thought is aroused in the receiving mind.

There is delay in the process; time is taken for the vibration to travel---the thought seems to have to exist in a curious mechanical form in its passage between the organisms---but the delay is usually not great. There may however be great delay; the material impression produced by one person may be delayed in reception till long after he is dead. Someone has made marks on a bit of paper, or has arranged pigments on a canvas; and this rearrangement of matter can be buried for a century, to be interpreted only by a subsequent generation. Not to be interpreted at all unless submitted to a competent mind.

These are the strange phenomena to which we have grown accustomed. Certainly the records can survive the death of the body; but can the thought which produced them survive, can the conscious memory of events survive? I say that if the Ether is animated, and if the mind is acting on the Ether and uses it as the real vehicle, they have every chance of surviving. Mind may always need a vehicle, a body, a habitation; but it need not be made of matter. If what I have suggested is true, it is not really made of matter now: it belongs to the insensible world, the world beyond our senses. Only for purposes of transmission and communication do we need the world of matter: our real existence is elsewhere and otherwise. We---our own nature---must not be confused with the atoms; they are an intermediate tool, a weapon, an instrument, a means of manifestation. Music conceived in the mind can be reproduced on an organ or a violin, but music itself is not dependent on those instruments; they are used only for the purpose of making it audible to others. The Ether is a permanent vehicle, probably adapted to the utilisation of something still more beyond our senses than itself. Reality lies in the unseen, the permanent; where there need be no imperfection, no wearing out and decaying, no dissipation of energy, no loss or waste or fatigue. All these imperfections belong to the assemblage of atoms which we call matter: these truly are temporary, but Reality is permanent. "The things seen are temporal, unseen things are eternal."

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