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Epilogue: the Ultimate Physical Reality

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« on: April 10, 2024, 08:16:10 am »

  Spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus
  Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.
---VIRGIL.

THE Ether of Space is a theme of unknown and apparently infinite magnitude, and of a reality beyond the present conception of man. It is that of which every-day material consists, a link between the worlds, a consummate substance of overpowering grandeur. By a kind of instinct, one feels it to be the home of spiritual existence, the realm of the awe-inspiring and the supernal. It is co-extensive with the physical universe, and is absent from no part of space. Beyond the furthest star it extends; in the heart of the atom it has its being. It permeates and controls and dominates all. It eludes the human senses, and can be envisaged only by the powers of the mind.

Yet the Ether is a physical thing, it is not a psychical entity, it has definite physical properties. It is not matter, any more than hydrogen and oxygen are water, but it is the vehicle of both matter and spirit. Its mechanism is unknown to us, its inner nature eludes us; yet mechanism it must have, for it is subject to physical laws. Its vibrations can be analysed: they bring to us information, and without them we could not exist. All life on the planets is dependent upon Ether tremors; Matter is responsive to them, and they may have been instrumental in bringing matter into existence. Ether is the universal connecting link; the transmitter of every kind of force. Action at a distance is wholly dependent on the Ether, and it is manifestly the vehicle or substratum underlying electricity and magnetism and light and gravitation and cohesion.

But though it is the seat of all electric forces, and indeed the sole transmitter of force, ether is not electricity any more than it is matter. Yet an electric charge must be composed of it, in a way which has yet to be discovered. Undoubtedly it has electrical and magnetic properties, and is the vehicle of gravitation and of light. It welds the planets into a solar system. It unites the parts of an atom, and it holds the atoms together. It is the seat of prodigious energies---energies beyond anything as yet accessible to man. All we know of energy is but the faint trace or shadow or overflow of its mighty being.

Hidden away in its constitution is a fundamental and absolute speed, a speed not of locomotion but of internal circulation. What it is that is thus whirling we do not know: without the whirl we have no conception of it. The whirl and the fundamental something together make up the Ether. And we have no power of detaching the one from the other, hardly even in thought.

Over great realms of space there is nothing else; but here and there is a modified portion, so modified as to be the seat and subject of what we call gravity, but exactly how modified we have still to find out. We know the unit of this portion as a localised singularity, capable of position and of locomotion. Can it be a special kind of whirl, or is it a knot or a strain or a bubble, a hollow or an extra condensation, or what? This is a question to be tackled; but as yet we cannot fully answer. In one form we call such individualised unit an electron; and we know that of such units, and of units akin to them, the atoms of matter are made. We know that all the bodies we see and handle are but elaborate and beautifully organised congeries of positive and negative electrons, held together and connected by the medium of which they themselves consist. The world, the stars, the heavens, are nothing else. The mystery of existence is close upon us here. We cannot claim knowledge. We grope in a kind of helplessness with our few animal senses, and we live our short animal lives, encouraged by a faith and hope that we are something more than appears, and that in the deep roots of our being we belong to another order of things, which is associated with this physical order perhaps only for a time.

Speculatively and intuitively we feel to be more in direct touch with the ether than with matter. How we can act on matter is a mystery. How we have constructed and how we move our bodies, we do not know. We are apt to identify ourselves with our bodies. But there is evidence which shows that we are really independent, that we continue in existence, and can leave our bodies behind. Matter is not part of our real being, not of our essential nature: it is but an instrument that we use for a time and then discard. Probably we do not act directly upon matter at all. Our will, our mind, our psychic life, probably act directly upon the Ether; and only through it, indirectly, on Matter. Ether is our real primary and permanent instrument. It is in connexion with the Ether that our real being consists; and through it we are able to manipulate the atoms of matter, to move them, to rearrange them, and thus employ them to express our thoughts and feelings and to manifest ourselves to other individual entities who in the long course of evolution have been enabled to construct and employ similar most ingenious, though imperfect, instruments of manifestation. By this means we can become aware of a multitude of existences, the whole animal and vegetable kingdom, of which otherwise we might have remained ignorant; by this means our conceptions of existence have been enlarged and extended, the possibilities of friendship enhanced, the perception of a new realm of law and order attained. And thus is our own nature enriched by the effort and experiences belonging to a new and most interesting---though from our point of view imperfect and rebellious---physical mode of existence.

While thus incorporated in matter we communicate with each other through signs and codes, through symbols and material means. We send messages by vibrations of the air; we record them by conventional traces. We preserve and study the marks---the writings, records---made by previous generations: we utilise for signalling purposes, not only the vibrations of the air, but the vibrations of the Ether. The animals have long learnt to do this through their astonishing sense organ the eye; which indeed appears very low down in the scale of evolution, and may be regarded as an outstanding sign of our etherial connexion. The ear appears as a later development: we learned to employ aerial vibrations later. The Ether connexion is simpler, more direct, more informing, less dependent upon code, more immediately intelligible than anything connected with language. Pictures appeal to children before words. Pictures made appeal to very early humanity before language. Visible things were apprehended before pictures. Thus it is through the Ether that we get our earliest information.

Touch seems to be a purely material sensation, the result of direct contact with matter: it is indeed what we call "contact." But when we come to analyse touch, we learn that atoms are never in contact. They approach each other within an infinitesimal distance; but there is always a cushion, what may be called a repulsive force, between them,---a cushion of Ether. Hence even our apparently most material sense is dependent on on this omnipresent medium, on which alone we can directly act, and through which all our information comes. It is the primary instrument of Mind, the vehicle of Soul, the habitation of Spirit. Truly it may be called the living garment of God.

THE END
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